12/06/2004 12:00AM

Wheaton's Aly ready to fire

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Tim Hills said he would like to be more of a factor in New York on a year-round basis. Hills, who is off to a good start at the inner-track meet, should certainly be a factor Wednesday, when he sends out Wheaton's Aly in Aqueduct's $54,000 featured allowance race.

Wheaton's Aly looks like the main speed in the eight-horse field, in which three are available for the optional claiming price of $85,000.

Wheaton's Aly enters this race off a seven-week layoff, or since taking a high-priced claiming race at Belmont Park on Oct. 22. That day, Wheaton's Aly beat First Blush by a nose. First Blush came back to win an optional claiming race in his next start.

Hills said he and his owners, racing journalists Tom Pedulla and Bob Ehalt, feared that Wheaton's Aly could bounce if he ran back too soon, which explains the layoff.

Hills said he believes Wheaton's Aly is the prototypical horse for the inner track.

"He's a small, quick horse who is really versatile," said Hills, who is 2 for 4 at the meet. "He always shows up; he never has a bad day. He seems like the type of horse that would be a natural for the inner track."

Wheaton's Aly has three wins, a second, and a third from six starts since coming to Hills. His only out-of-the-money finish came when he was fourth in the Decathlon Stakes at Monmouth, 13 days after taking a third-level allowance race in the slop. Shaun Bridgmohan will ride.

True Direction drops into allowance company after finishing ninth in the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park on Nov. 20.

"Johnny [Velazquez] said he didn't grip the track real well," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "He didn't fire his Grade 1 race. We were hoping for a wet track. Rain was in the forecast, but it never materialized."

True Direction is 3 for 3 on wet tracks, including a 12-length maiden score over a muddy inner track in his second career start. Though Wednesday's forecast calls for dry conditions, rain was expected on Tuesday. Rafael Bejarano rides.

Highway Prospector won a swiftly run optional claiming race in the slop at The Meadowlands on Nov. 12 and should be closing late.

Way to the Top has not run since finishing sixth in the General George Handicap in February. Trainer Bruce Levine said he thinks his horse will need a race before he fires his best.