01/04/2005 1:00AM

Snake Mountain wants it dry

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Horseplayers must grapple with a number of issues as they handicap Thursday's eighth race at Aqueduct, not the least of which is the strong probability of a wet inner track.

Eight older males entered the mile and 70-yard allowance, which also has an optional claiming price of $85,000. The likely favorite is Snake Mountain, a 7-year-old gelding who has won all five of his starts on the inner dirt, including three stakes in the winter of 2002-03.

reaffirmed his affinity for the inner dirt last month by coming from off the pace to win at the expense of two next-out winners - the stakes-placed Song of the Sword and Tamburello, who won the Gallant Fox Handicap in an upset on Dec. 29.

Snake Mountain drew the outside post, however, and while he has won 11 of 17 starts on fast dirt tracks he is winless in four starts on wet tracks.

also has been a terror on fast tracks, with 5 wins in 10 starts, but he, too, has been blanked in five starts on wet tracks, including a last-place finish in the 2003 Preakness.

Kissin Saint breaks from the rail Thursday and picks up eight pounds after a rallying fourth-place finish in last month's Queens County Handicap. After that race Kissin Saint was purchased by Buckram Oak Farm and turned over to trainer Laurie LaFavers, who last week revealed that Kissin Saint is being pointed to next month's King's Cup, a marathon race in Saudi Arabia.

The prospect for wet weather is fine with the red-hot Greg Martin, who will saddle Region of Merit.

A one-time stakes runner, Region of Merit was claimed for $50,000 last July and is on a run of five consecutive second-place finishes.

"He's run so hard five times in a row, and not to get a win has been very difficult," said Martin, who started the inner-track meet with 6 wins in his first 16 starters. "He's coming into this race as good as he can be; he worked tremendous."

The work was a bullet 46.61-second half-mile last Thursday, the fastest of 76 at the distance that day.

breaks from post 5 with a rider switch to Richard Migliore, and appears set up for a stalking trip just off early-speed types Tales of Glory, a last-out winner for Todd Pletcher, and Private Lap, whose two wins last year came on wet tracks at Delaware Park.

Upturn, Jersey Giant, and Personal Touch round out the field.