11/13/2003 12:00AM

Turf marathon attracts global crowd

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Saturday's Grade 2 Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct ought to be renamed for a different location. Eight of the fillies and mares in the 12-horse field aren't even from the United States, let alone New York's Long Island.

The 120-pound highweight, Volga, is an Irish-bred. Four horses in the field were bred in Germany, two in Great Britain, and another in Argentina. Regardless of the country of origin, all 12 have been drawn by the Long Island's unusual conditions: 1 1/2 miles on the turf for fillies and mares, around three tight turns on Aqueduct's seven-furlong course.

Most eyes, however, are on a U.S. horse, Mariensky, a two-time graded stakes winner who has done her best running on Long Island. A 4-year-old filly by Gulch, Mariensky earned two overwhelming Beyer Speed Figures when she won the May 31 Sheepshead Bay Handicap and the June 7 Just a Game Breeders' Cup Handicap, both at Belmont Park on soft turf. The grass course at Aqueduct will likely be soft as well on Saturday.

But there are some questions about Mariensky's fitness. In her last race, the Aug. 25 Glens Falls Handicap, Mariensky finished seventh, and afterward she was found to have "sore feet," according to trainer Christophe Clement.

Clement said on Thursday morning that Mariensky was back to 100 percent and that he felt the 4-year-old filly deserved another grass race before winter settles in. Mariensky has had two works, on Oct. 19 and Nov. 1, since returning from the clinic. "She's fit," Clement said. "And it's the end of the year."

Clement also entered Meridiana in the Long Island. She is a recent import from Europe who won the Group 1 Oaks d'Italia on May 18. Meridiana was initially spotted for the Pebbles Handicap on Oct. 13 at Belmont Park, but she came down with a virus the day before the race and had to be withdrawn from consideration, Clement said.

The German contingent includes Boana, a 5-year-old mare owned by Gary Tanaka. Although Boana is taking a major step up in class, Tanaka's German charges can't be ignored in the Long Island. He has won the race twice in the past three years with German-bred horses.

Volga, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, won her last start, the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine, by a head in a dramatic four-horse photo. The 1 1/4-mile E.P. Taylor, run on soft turf, was Volga's first start for McLaughlin, who said the filly has been doing "very well, training very well, and eating very well" since her last race.

One horse to watch in the Long Island is Primetimevalentine, whose last race was a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes, won by Dimitrova. Trainer Daniel Peitz acknowledged on Thursday that Primetimevalentine was "in tough again" in the Long Island, especially if the course comes up soft. But he said he felt obligated to take a shot because of the paucity of true marathon turf races for fillies and mares.

"We've definitely got our work cut out for us," said Peitz. "But she's a true marathon horse, and I think she'll like the extra distance."

The field also includes Approach, Banyu Dewi, D'Ohana, Itnab, Lady of the Future, Mandela, and Spice Island.