11/17/2005 12:00AM

Wild Chick crosses Hudson for shot at a grass stakes

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Kiaran McLaughlin will saddle Thunder Touch in the Highweight.

OZONE PARK, N.J. - With the grass-racing season winding down, the $65,000 Soaring Softly Stakes Saturday at Aqueduct was hugely popular at the entry box Thursday.

The 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies drew a full field of 10 with five more consigned to the also-eligible list. A 16th horse, Merrill Gold, was entered as a main-track-only runner.

Wild Chick looks like a top contender following a seven-length turf allowance victory most recently at The Meadowlands Racetrack.

A homebred filly for New Farm who is trained by Ben Perkins Jr., she already has won over the course. She set the pace and held on to score by a nose back in April.

The Irish-bred Oonagh Maccool is the most intriguing runner, coming out of the Todd Pletcher barn for her U.S. debut. She was unbeaten in two starts in England at one mile on the grass and will add Lasix.

Half Heaven and Mountain Mambo, the second- and third-place finishers in Belmont's Gaviola Stakes, square off again.

Fairest Cape, in traffic on the final turn in The Meadowlands's Miss Liberty Stakes, will add blinkers.

Thunder Touch set to defend title

Kiaran McLaughlin has been aiming Thunder Touch toward the $100,000 Fall Highweight Handicap for much of this season.

The Fall Highweight at six furlongs is the traditional Thanksgiving Day feature that starts Aqueduct's annual HolidayFest of stakes races.

It continues Friday with the Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap for fillies and mares, and it culminates on Saturday with three stakes, headlined by the Grade 1 Cigar Mile.

As the name suggests, the Fall Highweight is a throwback event in which horses tote old-fashioned weight assignments.

That's a concern for McLaughlin, as Thunder Touch carried 126 pounds to a 1 1/4-length win in last year's Fall Highweight.

"We're back to defend last year's win," he said. "He's a nice horse that's been training well. Hopefully, he won't get too much weight put on him."

The weight assignments from the racing office were due on Friday.

Thunder Touch, 4, has won 2 of 8 races this year, including one via disqualification last time out in the Vincent A. Moscarelli Memorial at Delaware Park on Oct. 15.

"We've spaced his last couple of races and we've been pointing for this," McLaughlin said.

King's Drama lands in Japan

King's Drama, the easy odds-on winner of the Big A's Grade 2 Red Smith Handicap last weekend, arrived safely in Japan, according to trainer Bobby Frankel.

The Red Smith was a tune-up for the $4 million Japan Cup on Nov. 27.

Such ultra-long-distance trips pose no special problems, Frankel said

"You just put them on the plane," he said. "It just takes longer. The plane stops in Anchorage, Alaska, and then goes over the North Pole."

Frankel, who won the Japan Cup with Pay the Butler in 1988, won't be making the trip.

"I've already been there five times already," Frankel said. "It's a long trip, and I've seen it already. I'll watch it on TVG."

Big plans for Better Now

Trainer Mark Hennig plans to work Better Now this weekend and, if all goes well, run her in the Big A's Grade 2, $200,000 Demoiselle for 2-year-old fillies on Nov. 26.

"We'll make a decision after she works and we're leaning in that direction," said Hennig.

Better Now won her maiden on Sept. 11 and stepped right up to Belmont's Grade 1 Frizette on Oct. 8. She ran fourth following an awkward start, a solid effort considering the quality of the competition.

Better Now drew away to a 3 1/2-length win in her next outing, Belmont's Grade 3 Tempted Stakes.

NYRA drafts 2006 schedule

The New York Racing Association drafted a tentative 2006 schedule that calls for 257 racing days.

The schedule still must be submitted for approval to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, and will closely resemble the 2005 calendar with two changes. The Belmont spring-summer meet will end on Saturday, July 22, allowing an additional transition day before Saratoga starts on July 26.

The other change is in the fall when Aqueduct will not race on Election Day.

* The Big A was off the turf Thursday following Wednesday night showers in the New York area. The card on a sunny afternoon attracted only 2,029 fans.