02/27/2004 1:00AM

'Snake' won't make Stymie

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Snake Mountain won't defend his title in next Saturday's $75,000-added Stymie Handicap at Aqueduct.

Snake Mountain, who won last year's Stymie by a nose over Classic Endeavor, will not be ready to run in the 1 1/8-mile race, according to his trainer, Jimmy Jerkens.

A graded stakes winner with $470,432 in earnings, Snake Mountain hasn't run since Oct. 24, when he won an allowance race at Belmont Park. Since his last start, Snake Mountain has been plagued by various foot ailments. Jerkens had thought about running Snake Mountain in an allowance race at Aqueduct on Feb. 20, but changed his mind and didn't enter. The 6-year-old's last recorded work was on Feb. 8 at Belmont.

"I just felt like I was getting in a bit of a hurry with him," Jerkens said from Florida, where he has a division at Palm Meadows. "He's doing good, but he won't be ready for the Stymie. I would like to run him not too long after the Stymie - maybe 10 days to two weeks - in a money allowance race. That would be good."

Jerkens also reported that Message Red, who was forced to miss the Rare Treat Handicap here on Feb. 16 because an old ankle injury flared up, is recuperating on a Long Island farm. Message Red, one of last year's top older female New York-bred runners, will return to Belmont when Jerkens gets back from Florida around April 1.

New York Hero points for Toboggan

Despite a spectacular performance in a two-turn allowance race on Feb. 13, New York Hero will not run in the Stymie and instead will be pointed to the seven-furlong Toboggan Handicap on March 13.

New York Hero, who won last year's Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park, won a fourth-level allowance by five lengths in his last start. The 4-year-old earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 111 for the performance.

"Distance has always been a question for him," said Jennifer Pedersen, New York Hero's trainer. "We have always thought he was a better seven-furlong horse, even though he ran a brilliant race at [a mile and a eighth]."

In the Stymie, Pedersen will be represented by Lord ofthe Thunder, who is coming off a second-place finish to Loving in an allowance race on Feb. 20. A 5-year-old New York-bred, Lord ofthe Thunder was closing ground in the final yards and missed by a neck. In his previous start, Lord ofthe Thunder won an allowance by three lengths and defeated his stablemate, New York Hero.

"I think Loving is a very nice horse, but I thought we were the better horse," said Pedersen, who noted that she didn't like her horse's trip.

Pedersen said that Javier Castellano, who rode Lord ofthe Thunder in his last start, will be replaced by Richard Migliore.

Weights for the Stymie will be released on Sunday.

Nelson plans to return in April

Jockey Diane Nelson, who broke her left ankle in a spill at Belmont in October, recently began getting on horses at Palm Meadows in Florida and expects to be riding races at Aqueduct by April.

Nelson, who has a plate and nine screws in her ankle, started galloping and breezing horses on Feb. 18. She has been in Florida riding her two show horses since the middle of January, which has helped her prepare for the more strenuous task of galloping and breezing racehorses.

"I felt out of sorts until I got back on my first horse last week," Nelson said. "I'm back doing what I'm supposed to be doing and it feels good. Now I'm anxious to get back to the track and ride [races] again."

Pop Rocks leads field in sprint

With no stakes on Sunday, a third-level allowance for sprinters is the highlight of the nine-race card. The six-furlong race for older males drew five runners and will be run as the third race, outside the pick six.

Pop Rocks, trained by Allen Iwinski, is the horse to beat. In his last start, Pop Rocks finished second in an allowance race behind Don Six, who is headed to the Toboggan Handicap. Last September at Delaware Park, Pop Rocks finished second to A Huevo, who returned to win Laurel Park's De Francis Memorial Dash in his next start.

Shaun Bridgmohan rides Pop Rocks, who drew the rail.

Tarek makes his first start off the claim for trainer Jason Servis, who is having a successful inner-track meet with nine winners from 36 starters.

Fragoso draws seven-day ban

Apprentice Pablo Fragoso, the leading rider at the inner-track meet, was suspended seven days for careless riding in the sixth race on Wednesday. Fragoso appealed the suspension, and a stay was granted by the Aqueduct stewards.

Apprentice Luis Medina waived his right to appeal a suspension for careless riding in Wednesday's second race and was scheduled to begin a three-day suspension on Saturday.