06/05/2002 11:00PM

On turf or not on turf, who knows?


ELMONT, N.Y. - The good news is that Saturday's weather forecast calls for partly sunny skies and comfortable temperatures, which means a record crowd is likely for War Emblem's Triple Crown bid.

The bad news is that as of Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service had issued a flood watch for the New York area because of heavy rain expected Thursday night into Friday morning.

The rain was expected to leave the area early Friday, which is plenty of time for track superintendent Jerry Porcelli to get the main track dried out. But a soaking rain would wreak considerably more havoc with five scheduled turf races on the program.

My assumption is that the two graded grass stakes, the Just a Game Breeders' Cup and the Manhattan, will be unaffected, except for being contested on something other than firm going. It's anyone's guess as to whether any or all among the fifth, 11th, and 12th races - allowance events scheduled for turf - will remain on their respective courses.

Handicappers would especially like to get a firm grasp of the 11th race, because it is the final leg of a $1 million guaranteed pick six, and also the last leg of a pick four with a guaranteed minimum pool of $500,000. It is also the third leg of a second pick four, the traditional "final four" pick four.

To be sure, even conservative bettors can potentially run up a big tab on this 12-race card that includes five graded stakes, and offers the chance to get involved, for better or worse, with the staggering total of 44 possible exotic wagers.

As the fiendish powers that be have ordained, the more predictable-looking races come early in the day, well before the pick six and pick fours begin. A capsulized view of those difficult pick six and pick four races:

Race 6 (start of pick six): Lots of ways to get the exotics ball rolling in the True North Handicap, which is fraught with parimutuel peril. What to do with Yonaguska, a back-to-back graded stakes winner last fall who has been in mothballs since backing up in the Malibu and running dead last on turf at the turn of the year? What to do with the unbeaten Summer Note, who returned from a 28-month layoff to win in 1:08.86 in May? I'm leaving the $1 million pick six to the more well-leveraged syndicates.

Race 7: Why in the world is Voodoo Dancer, a Grade 1 winner last fall, wheeling back 12 days after a fine third-place finish in the Gamely Handicap at Hollywood Park? Not only must she rebound from a paired top on the Beyer scale, she must do so after a cross-country trip while giving weight and breaking from the extreme outside post. Take a stand against her, all the more so if the turf is yielding, and key around talented rivals Tates Creek and Babae.

Race 8 (start of $500,000 pick four): Pace figure aficionados are going to focus on Warners, who in the Bay Shore earned a pace figure that towers over these. They will also be scared to death of Hirsch Jacobs winner True Direction, who is unbeaten since going on Lasix; and Yankee Gentleman, a budding star whose two wins have come by an aggregate 16 lengths.

Race 9 (Start of final pick four): Busted out of the guaranteed jackpots already? Take heart because there's another pick four under way here, as well as a pick three. All you've got to so is come up with the winner of the deepest turf stakes of the year! Beware that Forbidden Apple won this race off a layoff last year, but he is facing a far tougher group this time around.

Race 10: If War Emblem wins, payoffs will be small. If you want a big payoff on your exotics, you have to root against the Triple Crown. Come on Perfect Drift! Come on Proud Citizen! Come on somebody!

Race 11: Is it still on the turf? If so, Absaroka is a tough-trip playback after running into trouble on both turns at Keeneland. On dirt, Sing Me Back Home could be the key single to lock up the guaranteed multi-race exotics.

Race 12: Taken a collar on the first 41 exotic bets? There are still three more strikes to swing at here. And hey, there's always win, place and show, you know.