11/14/2002 12:00AM

Threat of rain clouds Long Island


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The lack of a standout, the unknown quality of two European shippers, and a changeable forecast make Saturday's $150,000 Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct a difficult puzzle to solve.

Scheduled to be New York's final turf stakes of the year for fillies and mares, the Grade 2 Long Island drew 15 entries. A forecast that now calls for rain to begin Saturday afternoon could force the race to the main track. If that occurs, the Long Island would be run at 1 3/8 miles rather than 1 1/2 miles.

Trainer Scott Schwartz certainly hopes the weathermen are correct, as he entered Critical Eye to run only if the Long Island comes off the turf. In 2001, Critical Eye won the off-the-turf Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap at Belmont. Critical Eye, a 5-year-old New York-bred daughter of Dynaformer, is less than $9,000 from $1 million in earnings.

If the race goes on dirt, Critical Eye would be the 122-pound highweight. She is only 1 for 8 at Aqueduct and is coming off a third-place finish in the Turnback the Alarm Handicap, a race Schwartz said he believes is a throwout.

"That last race wasn't too much of a race," Schwartz said. "There was a slow pace, and she must have went a half in 51 [seconds] and only run a quarter of a mile.''

Tarnished Lady and Unrestrained were also entered to run only on the main track. Tarnished Lady finished second in the 12-furlong Coaching Club American Oaks, and trainer Todd Pletcher said he had this race in mind, hoping it would come off.

Should the race remain on turf, trainer Christophe Clement will send out the uncoupled entry of Mot Juste, the 119-pound highweight, and Moon Queen. Mot Juste has only an allowance win to her credit the last 18 months, but she raced competitively in the Glens Falls Handicap and Flower Bowl Invitational. She is winless in four trips at 12 furlongs.

Moon Queen finished fifth as the favorite in last year's Long Island Handicap. In her only start since, she was a convincing winner of The Very One Handicap in February at Gulfstream. A training setback had her on the shelf since then.

Sulk and Uriah are a pair of 3-year-old fillies who have shipped in for European connections. Sulk, trained by John Gosden, is only 2 for 10 but has been competitive in Group 1 competition. Uriah hails from the same connections that won the off-the-turf Long Island in 2000 with Moonlady.

Nepenthe, a 12-furlong specialist, could be dangerous for trainer Ron McAnally.

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