03/09/2006 1:00AM

Toboggan boils down to 3-horse race

Email

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Racing on the inner track was extended deep into March this year, a sensible thing given the wacky weather patterns in the Northeast at this time of year. Even so, handicappers at Aqueduct have seen some encouraging signs of spring. Post time reverted to 1 p.m. this week, and the snow fences were removed from the turf course.

In addition, Saturday's Toboggan Handicap is the first graded stakes in seven weeks at the Big A, and it is the first graded sprint stakes of the year in New York.

The Toboggan has been around since the 1890's, when it was known as the Toboggan Slide and was run on the downhill course at Morris Park in the Bronx. It has been won by such luminaries as Equipoise, nicknamed the "Chocolate Soldier" by his adoring fans back in the early 1930's, and Bold Ruler, who won it carrying 133 pounds and subsequently became one of the greatest sires in racing history.

The 113th running on Saturday hasn't attracted any horses of that stature, but the field of six does include the race's defending champ, Primary Suspect.

Primary Suspect's form deteriorated after the 2005 Toboggan, however, and he has been away since finishing last in the Carter and the Maryland Breeders' Cup handicaps last spring. Assuming that Primary Suspect needs his first start in nearly 10 months, the six-furlong dash figures to unfold with Bishop Court Hill on the lead, and with High Blitz and Wild Jam trying to catch him.

Bishop Court Hill, a 6-year-old gelding, seems vulnerable because he comes off a front-running win in the Paumonok. That was the first stakes win of his career and his first win of any kind since July of 2004, and whether he can run figures of that caliber in consecutive races is questionable.

Wild Jam rallied to finish a close third as the favorite in the Paumonok, but it's interesting to note that Ramon Dominguez, who has been steadily eating away at Eibar Coa's lead in the Big A rider standings, has opted to stick with High Blitz.

High Blitz finished just a neck behind Bishop Court Hill when they met at Woodbine in December. His first start at Aqueduct came on Feb. 19, an exceptionally good second in a high-priced optional claimer with classified allowance conditions, a race in which he rallied from off the pace on a day when seven winners led wire to wire.

Greeley's Legacy bucked the trend

Along with Feb. 19, there were several other days recently when horses with inside speed appeared to have a big advantage.

On Feb. 25, for example, eight of the nine winners either led throughout or were within a half-length of the early lead forcing the pace from second position. The lone exception, and a very notable one, was the 3-year-old colt Greeley's Legacy, who trailed after the opening half-mile in a preliminary allowance route and swept past the rest of the field with a visually impressive four-wide rally.

Greeley's Legacy received the best Beyer Speed Figure (89) of his career for that win, and the race was good enough for trainer George Weaver to earmark next Saturday's Gotham Stakes for the colt's next start.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself, but it seems he's got the type of move that wins these big 3-year-old races," said Weaver. "He's got an explosive turn of foot, and he is just able to pour it on."

Greeley's Legacy will have to keep improving to be a factor in the Gotham, but his late run could play well if an anticipated showdown develops on the front end between Keyed Entry and Sweetnorthernsaint.

Cacique's brutal trip in Kilroe

There is wide, there is very wide, and there is stupid wide. Thank goodness Cacique was an underlay at 7-5, and not part of a pick four sequence, when he was beaten two heads and a nose in last week's Kilroe Mile.

As best as you can plot out trips in two-turn turf miles with 14 horses, Cacique's consistent tactical speed overseas suggested he could stalk the leaders from close range and punch it in turning for home. That scenario was out the window after he got squeezed at the start and he wound up so wide on the far turn that half of him was off my television screen - and I have one of those wide-screen projection relics from the early 1990's.

That's turf racing for you. As exasperating as it can be, though, it won't really be spring in New York until they're back on the grass next month.