04/25/2007 11:00PM

What do you know? Competitive racing

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Superstitious chalk players who stayed away from Aqueduct on Friday the 13th probably wish they hadn't. Eight of the nine winners were either first or second choice in the wagering, and the lone exception was a third choice who paid a whopping $8.90.

That April 13 card featured six exactas that returned less than $18 (two paid $7), and typified how mind-numbingly uncompetitive the handicapping has been at a 19-day spring meet that mercifully ends Sunday. It's relatively rare for a field of horses to cross the wire in exact pari-mutuel order, but on this card it happened twice - and nearly twice more in races where only a single runner finished out of place.

Fields were strung out a country mile April 13: at the finish of a seven-horse opener it was 44 lengths from first to last. Subsequent front-to-back spreads included 46 lengths in a nine-horse field, 50 lengths in a seven-horse field, and 80 lengths in an off-the-turf field of eight.

As this is written Thursday afternoon, favorites had swept races 2 through 7, and stood at 58 for 128 at the meet - a success rate of 45 percent.

So it's nice that, at least on paper, getaway weekend's four stakes look to be fairly competitive. Hopefully, Mother Nature will cooperate and the first two graded turf stakes of the New York season, Saturday's Grade 3 Beaugay and Sunday's Grade 3 Fort Marcy, will remain on what many old-school horseplayers refer to as "the proper surface."

The two dirt stakes, Saturday's Grade 3 Withers for 3-year-olds, and Sunday's $65,000 Kings Point for New York-breds, are competitive enough that in each case it's difficult to be certain who the actual favorite will be.

Withers

Divine Park, C P West, Frosty Secret, Street Magician, and Our Sacred Honour are closely matched based on their last-out Beyer Speed Figures, which fall into a narrow range of 91-95.

On a glib Polytrack at Keeneland three weeks ago, Divine Park overcame a slow start from the inside post for a last-to-first allowance win, despite lugging in with his head cocked greenly toward the grandstand as he swept past the field in midstretch. He ran seven furlongs in 1:21.17 and held the track record for two hours until another 3-year-old, Carnacks Choice, lowered the mark to 1:21.05 winning the Lafayette Stakes.

On the March 31 card at Gulfstream, Frosty Secret nosed C P West in a first-level allowance at seven furlongs; at the same distance a few hours later, Street Magician edged Our Sacred Honour in the Aventura Stakes in marginally faster time.

Our Sacred Honour broke from the rail, had to be used early, and really got rolling once angled outside in midstretch. He may benefit greatly from his outside draw in the Withers.

Beaugay

A tough race where seven in the field of 10 make either their first or second start back from a layoff.

If run over a rain-soaked course, the right one to key around may be Miss Shop. It's off the page now, but first time on grass as a 2-year-old back in fall 2005 she beat males by 7 1/2 lengths on Aqueduct turf rated soft. Her main rival looks to be Masseuse, who was closer to the early lead than she prefers in the Hillsborough, one of the fastest filly-and-mare turf races so far this year.

Fort Marcy

Among the five considered definite to run, Grand Couturier appears to hold a class edge based on a fourth-place finish in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris behind Rail Link, the eventual winner of the Arc de Triomphe. In that race, Grand Couturier was beaten a head and a neck by Breeders' Cup Turf winner Red Rocks.

The horses for the course are Baron Von Tap, the probable pacesetter, and Pa Pa Da, the runner-up in this race last year who has a 2-2-0 record from 4 starts on this layout.

Kings Point

Funny Cide was seventh on Polytrack at Keeneland three weeks ago, but he was also seventh at Gulfstream last year before returning to form for two starts on Aqueduct's main track - a second in the Excelsior, for which he received his best Beyer Figure of the year, and a come-again win in the Kings Point.

Funny Cide looks for a repeat in a fairly tough field a year later, one that is expected to include Organizer and Carminooch, the one-two finishers in last fall's Empire Classic; Accountforthegold, a graded stakes winner who will set the pace; and the up-and-coming Who What Win.