05/05/2002 11:00PM

A supporting race worthy of feature status

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ELMONT, N.Y. - The Grade 3 Westchester Handicap isn't the only notable race on Wednesday's opening-day card at Belmont Park.

A seven-furlong classified allowance race earlier on the card drew only five, but it marks the seasonal debut of Pegasus Handicap winner Volponi as well as the long overdue return of 2000 Nashua winner Ommadon. Add the regally bred Polish Miner and the red-hot Cherokee Beau and you have quite an intriguing affair. Tarek, runner-up in the 2001 Swale Stakes, completes the quintet.

A graded stakes winner on turf at 2, Volponi flourished on dirt as a 3-year-old, winning three of six starts, including the Grade 2 Pegasus Handicap at The Meadowlands. His last race was a fourth-place finish to Left Bank in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct last Nov. 24.

Volponi stayed all winter with trainer Phil Johnson, jogging many miles in the shed row. He has been working steadily since early March and has posted six consecutive bullet workouts, including a half-mile move Sunday in 46.65 seconds.

"I wasn't happy with his work yesterday; he worked too fast," said Johnson, who would have preferred a 48-second half-mile. "He's in there to win it; he's not in there for an easy race. Maybe the work dulled him, maybe it moves him forward."

Shaun Bridgmohan, coming off a share of the Aqueduct spring riding title, will be aboard Volponi from post 5. Volponi carries high weight of 121 pounds.

Ommadon, a 4-year-old son of Grindstone, has not run since March 28, 2001, when he won a classified allowance race at Aqueduct. Shortly thereafter, he suffered a broken right foot that took nine months to heal. Ommadon resumed training in January in South Carolina before returning to trainer Tommy Walsh's barn in March.

Ommadon has worked steadily, if not spectacularly, for his return and Walsh puts his fitness level at 90 percent.

"You never know with a horse being away that long, but he's always run well fresh," said Walsh, noting that Ommadon won first time out at 2 and 3.

Godolphin loaded with stars

Led by Dubai World Cup winner Street Cry, Godolphin Racing has 18 head in Belmont Park's Barn 4 with Tom Albertrani, an assistant to head trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

Though upset by Evening Attire in last year's Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct, Street Cry returned to Dubai where he romped to victory in the Dubai World Cup. On Monday, he breezed five furlongs in 1:01.73 and is being pointed to the Brooklyn Handicap on June 15.

Albertrani said an early schedule for Street Cry also includes the Suburban at Belmont on July 6 and the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August.

E Dubai, who won last year's Dwyer Stakes and was second in both the Travers and Super Derby, worked seven furlongs in 1:24.24. Albertrani said he is being pointed to the Metropolitan Handicap on May 27. E Dubai has not run since finishing second as the 1-2 favorite in the Super Derby.

Albertrani said E Dubai missed some time due to cracked heels suffered while training in Dubai. Albertrani said the heels are healing.

Essence of Dubai, who finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby, arrived at Belmont on Sunday, and will skip the Preakness and possibly be pointed to the Belmont Stakes, Albertrani said.

Mayakovsky to Riva Ridge

Mayakovsky, the Gotham winner, will make his next start in the $200,000 Riva Ridge Stakes on Belmont Stakes Day (June 8), trainer Patrick Biancone said.

Mayakovsky was under consideration for the Kentucky Derby until entry day, but was not entered. The Metropolitan Mile would have been a tempting spot for Mayakovsky, but his owners, Michael Tabor and Susan and John Magnier, have Left Bank for that race.

Another horse under consideration for the seven-furlong Riva Ridge is Cashel Castle, who suffered his first defeat when finishing second in the Derby Trial run over a sloppy track.

Marasca fighting for his life

Marasca, the winner of the Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream who would have been one of the favorites for Saturday's Lone Star Derby, fractured both sesamoids in his right foreleg last Saturday and is in "a fight for his life," trainer John Kimmel said.

Kimmel said Marasca suffered the injury while working out at the Fair Hill, Md., training center. He is currently at the New Jersey Equine Clinic in the care of Dr. Scott Palmer.

Kimmel said that even if Marasca could be saved, his racing career is over. Kimmel said it was unclear whether Marasca, a 3-year-old son of Take Me Out, would be able to be a serviceable stallion. Marasca, owned by Martin Cherry, has a 2-3-1 record from seven starts and earned $196,460.

March Magic retired

March Magic, the multiple stakes- winning filly owned by Ralph Evans, has been retired and has been bred to Unbridled's Song, trainer Rick Violette said.

"She has some kind of nagging little problem and she was not the same filly she was last year, so we stopped on her," Violette said. "She's been very, very good to us."

March Magic had a record of 6-7-2 from 22 starts and earned $638,290. She won the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher, the Grade 3 Comely, and the ungraded Poinciana Breeders' Cup Handicap. As a maiden in her 2-year-old year, she finished third in the Grade 1 Frizette and second in the Grade 2 Demoiselle.

BELMONT AT A GLANCE

RACING SCHEDULE: Wednesday through July 21 (55 days); dark Mondays and Tuesdays except Monday May 27 (Memorial Day); dark Wednesday May 29.

POST TIME: 1 p.m. Eastern Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; 3 p.m. on Fridays, except July 5 (1 p.m.). 12:30 p.m. on June 8 (Belmont Stakes Day).

MEET HIGHLIGHTS: $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap, May 27; $250,000 Acorn, June 7; $1 million Belmont Stakes, June 8; $400,000 Manhattan Handicap, June 8; $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap, June 15; $250,000 Hempstead Handicap, June 22; $250,000 Mother Goose, June 29; $200,000 Prioress, July 6; $500,000 Suburban Handicap, July 6; $350,000 Coaching Club American Oaks, July 20.

ADMISSIONS: Grandstand $2, Clubhouse $4.

PARKING: General $2, Preferred $4, Valet $6.

LOCATION: 2150 Hempstead Turnpike, Elmont, NY 11003; Exit 26B off Cross Island Parkway

PHONE: (516) 488-6000

INTERNET: www.nyra.com