03/11/2002 12:00AM

Time for the main events


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Monday's 30-degree temperatures and Wednesday's unappealing nine-race card notwithstanding, spring has arrived for New York horseplayers. After 14 weeks and 69 cards over the inner track, Aqueduct's main track opens Wednesday for its 38-day spring meeting.

The opening of the main track also brings a return to a 1 p.m. post.

Aqueduct will have 18 stakes worth a total of $3.050 million highlighted by the $750,000 Wood Memorial for 3-year-olds on April 13. The Wood was returned to a Grade 1 after it produced the last two Kentucky Derby winners (Fusaichi Pegasus and Monarchos). Also on the April 13 card is the Grade 1 Carter Handicap for older sprinters, traditionally run on closing weekend.

The main prep for the Wood is the $200,000 Gotham Stakes, which will be run on Sunday and televised live on ESPN. Those expected to run include Remsen winner Saarland, Saratoga track-record holder Mayakovsky, and undefeated Saratoga Blues, winner of the Whirlaway Stakes.

The move to the main track means the end of a steady diet of six-furlong and mile-and-70-yard races that permeate the daily inner track card. With Aqueduct's mile chute, races can be run at seven furlongs and one-mile.

There is less emphasis on speed on the main track, and outside posts are not as detrimental as they can be on the inner.

The main track meet usually means the return of some of the major outfits that winter in Florida. Trainers Allen Jerkens, Shug McGaughey, Todd Pletcher, John Kimmel, and Bill Mott will begin to filter in some of their better stock during the next two months. Jerkens has won or shared three of the last seven spring training titles.

Jockey John Velazquez, who won last year's spring title, is expected to ride the bulk of the spring meet in New York, with occasional trips to Keeneland.

Value can often be had when pinpointing horses who may show bad form on the inner track, but have performed well in the past over the main track.

In Wednesday's fifth race, a $60,000 claiming race, Night Caller makes his first start in 105 days. He finished fourth in two starts over the inner track. He has finished second in two main track races and earned a lifetime-best Beyer Speed Figure of 98 in one of those starts.

In the eighth race, a second-level allowance race for fillies and mares, handicappers may want to take a stand against likely favorite Kawajlain. This 5-year-old mare is 2 for 2 over the inner track and 0 for 7 over the main. Sabre of Silver is the lone member of the five-horse field with a victory over the main track.



RACING SCHEDULE: Wednesday through May 5 (38 days); dark Mondays and Tuesdays. Dark Sundays March 24 (Palm Sunday) and March 31 (Easter Sunday).

POST TIME: 1 p.m. Eastern.

ADMISSIONS: Clubhouse $3; grandstand $1

PARKING: General $1; Preferred $2, $5 Clubhouse or Valet.

MEET HIGHLIGHT: $750,000 Wood Memorial, April 13; $350,000 Carter Handicap, April 13; $200,000 Gotham, March 17; $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap, April 6; $150,000 Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap, March 30; $150,000 Bed o'Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap, April 20.

LOCATION: 110th St. and Rockaway Blvd. Jamaica, NY 11417. Exits 18B and 19 off Belt Parkway.

PHONE: (718) 641-4700.

INTERNET: www.nyra.com

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