11/16/2006 12:00AM

Three weekend cards moved to inner track


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - In a pre-emptive move, Aqueduct has shifted its Friday, Saturday, and Sunday cards to the winterized inner track.

With heavy rain in the forecast for late Thursday, the New York Racing Association hopes to prevent a repeat of the Nov. 9 cancellation that followed a torrential downpour.

"After discussions with our trainers and jockeys and John Passero, our director of racing surfaces, it was decided that this was the best course of action to give the main track a chance to recover from the effects of recent adverse weather," said Bill Nader, NYRA's senior vice president. "There is a forecast for heavy rain Thursday night and into the morning. We want to do all that we can to make sure the main track is ready for next week's HolidayFest program."

HolidayFest features six stakes races in four days, beginning on Thanksgiving. The highlight is the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 25.

Racing resumes on the main track on Wednesday; the surface reopens for training Tuesday.

The shift triggered distance changes for races 5, 6, and 7 on Friday. All three will be run at six furlongs instead of 6 1/2 or seven furlongs. All other races go at their original distances.

The inner track opens officially for the winter on Nov. 29.

It's not the first time Aqueduct has used the inner track as a fallback. In the spring of 1984 and 2003, the Gotham Stakes for 3-year-olds was switched to the inner track.

Dixie Meister to take aim at Cigar

Dixie Meister, a Texas-bred who developed into an open stakes winner in California, will be heading to Aqueduct for the Cigar Mile to face the unbeaten Discreet Cat.

The winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai, Discreet Cat has easily captured his three U.S. starts, including a 10 1/4-length romp most recently in the Grade 2 Jerome Breeders' Cup Handicap at Belmont Park.

In the Cigar Mile, Aqueduct stakes coordinator Andrew Brynes also expects 2005 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Silver Train; Badge of Silver, third earlier this month in the Breeders' Cup Mile; Swale Stakes winner and Florida Derby runner-up Sharp Humor; and Mantoloking.

It's a very deep spot for Dixie Meister's first East Coast appearance.

"The horse is doing extremely well," said trainer Julio Canani. "We'll be going against one of the best horses in the country in Discreet Cat, but last time out we beat a horse who ran in the Breeders' Cup."

That horse was Super Frolic, 12th in the Breeders' Cup Mile, and the race was the Grade 2 Californian at Hollywood Park on June 17. Dixie Meister rallied from sixth to get up by one length for his only graded victory, with Super Frolic the runner-up. A gelding, Dixie Meister has four wins and earnings of $496,210.

Canani found the options limited for Dixie Meister after opting to skip Del Mar.

"There weren't a lot of races, and the track at Del Mar was a little bit different this year, so I decided to back off him," Canani said. "I would be very happy to finish second or third in this race. He's sound and he's coming into the race great and in one piece, and this time of the year, there are not too many still standing. He's very healthy and he's training well."

Dixie Meister will leave California on Tuesday. It will be a homecoming for Canani, who spent several years working in New York for Bobby Frankel.

In all that time, Canani never set foot in the Big A.

"I've been very close, going to eat in restaurants nearby when I worked at Belmont," said Canani. "I have never been to Aqueduct."