02/22/2003 12:00AM

Agosti again having fun in the sun


OLDSMAR, Fla. - Every year you can see them streaming into the area, the spray from road salt still clinging to their motor homes as they clog the interstates in their quest to find refuge from the cold Canadian winter.

Every year thousands of "snowbirds" flock to Florida. Most are retirees or comfortably set folks who have the means to enjoy the warm weather and other amenities the Sunshine State offers. Among the snowbirds are the Canadian stables and racetrackers who use Tampa Bay Downs as their winter base.

Three years ago, Tom Agosti came to Tampa Bay Downs for the first time. Even though the Fort Erie-based trainer didn't have stalls on the grounds and was forced to ship in from a local training center, he won at more than a 20-percent clip, making some smart claims and turning quite a few heads.

After a subpar season last year, Agosti returned with a different outlook and a different lineup of runners. As was the case during the 2000-01 season, he is making things happen. On Friday, Bouree roared from off the pace and blew away a field of high-priced claiming runners on the turf giving Agosti 10 victories from 52 starts.

The fact that Bouree was even running, let alone winning, had Agosti shaking his head in amazement.

"She was so sick after we shipped down here you wouldn't believe it," Agosti said. "She wouldn't eat, she lost over 200 pounds, and we were really worried. We just couldn't figure out what was wrong."

Bouree's stomach was scoped and ulcers were found.

"We began treating her and she turned right around. She began to gain weight, she started attacking the feed tub, and started coming back to her old self. She was doing so good we had to run her somewhere, even though we were a little scared to run her for the tag."

On Friday, Bouree settled near the back of the pack in the 1 1/16-mile turf race for $25,000 claimers. She was fanned five wide into the stretch and then drew off to win by 1 1/2 lengths under Russell Woolsey.

"Russell said she was into the bit from the start, very much into the race, and he basically just let her roll on the turn and it was all over," Agosti said.

"That race has got me thinking about the filly and mare turf race on Florida Cup Day," he added. "We tried to get more Florida-breds for this winter and have more horses we had more freedom to work with. Last year, we were scared to lose some of our horses and were maybe a bit overprotective, but we're back on track now."

While Woolsey rode Bouree, jockey Martin Ramirez handles much of Agosti's stock. Ramirez is having his best meet ever here with 20 wins, including six from his last 21 mounts, going into Saturday.

"Martin is a good, strong rider and you need that over this sandy track," Agosti said. "Often it's a case of just grinding it out and he's good at that."