03/06/2008 12:00AM

Weather may be a factor in Gotham

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Nothing says spring in New York like wind-driven rain. According to the weather forecast, that may be Mother Nature's way of ushering in the return of graded stakes racing here, so handicappers may have to factor in a wet inner track as they assess the $250,000 Gotham for 3-year-olds and the $100,000 Toboggan Handicap for older sprinters.

The Gotham is wide open, with 7 of 10 runners having recorded a Beyer Speed Figure in the 90-96 range. It took a figure of 100 or better to win all but one Gotham from 1991-2003, but 3 of the last 4 winners have been below that standard, including Cowtown Cat (88), the eventual last-place finisher in last year's Kentucky Derby.

Whether any among this group make it to Louisville remains to be seen, but the result will be inconclusive if the track is sealed slop or mud.

"I'm hoping the predictions are slightly off," said Rick Schosberg, who trains the unbeaten New York-bred Giant Moon. "If all that rain comes Saturday afternoon, it will be a much different track than the one he won over in the Sleepy Hollow."

Giant Moon has given the impression he's doing just enough to win, so it will be interesting to see how he responds off a designed freshening since winning the Count Fleet Stakes nine weeks ago, with a nice forward move to a 93 Beyer figure.

Roman Emperor finished third as the favorite in the Count Fleet, but figures very close with Giant Moon based on a close second in the Whirlaway four weeks later. He earned a Beyer of 93 over a harrowed "good" inner track in the Whirlaway, which continued his pattern of improving at least five points every time out. Roman Emperor has the benefit of five two-turn races under his belt, including prior wet-track experience at Delaware Park and Philadelphia Park, and drew favorably in post 3.

As is often the case in 3-year-old routes at this time of year, some sprinters stretch out with flashy figures. Laysh Laysh Laysh and Saratoga Russell both rate a long look off their recent races at six furlongs.

Laysh Laysh Laysh got a 96 for his late-rallying third in the Fred Capossela Stakes last out and might have won that race had he not been bottled up on the rail through the final sixteenth of a mile.

If the track is sloppy or muddy and favors speed, Saratoga Russell, the lone entrant to have run on a sealed surface, becomes the horse to catch and beat.

It's always a tough call whether lightly raced stretch-outs can get the trip, but Saratoga Russell is the lone member of the field with two Beyers in the 90s, and both were delivered on wet tracks in much-the-best victories: a maiden win at the expense of Laysh Laysh Laysh here Dec. 15, and a lengthy score in the slop at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 9.

Toboggan Handicap

The Toboggan will be run for the 115th time Saturday. The current Beyer par of approximately 105 for the sprint includes 15 straight triple-digit figures - a streak that came to an end last year when Attila's Storm received a 96.

Set the over/under at right around 100 for this short field of six. Only Santana Strings and Ravalo have hit the century mark recently.

Santana Strings ran a lifetime best of 103 in the Sunshine Millions Sprint last out, but as a 6-year-old sprinter with just one victory since 2005, he sure seems susceptible to a bounce, especially as a one-run closing sprinter on the inner dirt.

Ravalo is a tricky read. He closed out 2007 winning back-to-back stakes at Mountaineer Park with figures of 103 and 104, and won an overnight stakes in his first local start three weeks ago. Though Ravalo lost twice in the slop last summer, he was running in first-level allowance races at the time and he is far more accomplished now. To win, he will have to survive a pace duel with Man of Danger, a sharp-breaking mud lark who has gone wire to wire the last two times he's run on dirt with C.C. Lopez aboard.

Sir Greeley has run in four Grade 3 stakes since winning the 2006 Westchester Handicap and been second all four times. He may be best used to fill out the underside of exactas as he makes his first start at age 6, considering he has been best at seven furlongs to a mile throughout his career.