09/22/2004 11:00PM

Alexander gets going

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Bruce Alexander, one of the top-percentage trainers at Fort Erie and Woodbine this summer, has relocated to New Jersey for The Meadowlands meet that begins Oct. 1.

Alexander isn't waiting for opening night to take the local plunge. He entered Emerald Earrings in the $60,000 Without Feathers Stakes at Monmouth Park on Saturday.

Emerald Earrings looks like the one to beat in the mile and 70-yard race for 3-year-old fillies following consecutive impressive turf victories at Woodbine. She earned career-best Beyer Speed Figures of 89 for both one-mile efforts, an allowance race and the Ontario Colleen Handicap.

"We're going from turf to dirt and around two turns for the first time, but we think she's up to it," said Alexander.

Emerald Earrings has a record of two wins and a second in three main-track starts, all sprints.

Alexander said that her regular rider, Jake Barton, "thought she ran better and felt more comfortable on the main track."

Stewart Elliott gets the mount on Saturday.

A Lulu of a Menifee, trained by Barclay Tagg, could offer the main competition. She has been keeping fast company, running seventh in the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga and third in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park. Joe Bravo will be aboard.

The Saturday card also features another stakes for females, the $60,000 Girl Powder Handicap for New Jersey-breds at six furlongs.

This could be the breakthrough spot for Eastern Gale, who has 2 seconds and 2 thirds in 4 statebred handicaps this meet.

Lopez out for the year

Chuck Lopez won't get an opportunity to defend his riding title at The Meadowlands.

Lopez dislocated his right shoulder when he was unseated in a race at Monmouth on Sept. 11. The initial prognosis had him sidelined two to three weeks, but further tests revealed a torn rotator cuff that will require surgery.

Lopez, fourth in the Monmouth standings, will return in January or February at Gulfstream Park.

North East Bound retired

North East Bound, who almost pulled off a monumental upset in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Mile, has been retired.

The 8-year-old gelding, trained by Bill Perry, will spend his days at Sunny Oak Farm in Kentucky. He earned $1,363,228, winning 12 of 50 career starts.

Fans will best remember him for the fall of 2000, when he won The Meadowlands Cup and nearly took the Breeders' Cup as a 42-1 shot. North East Bound shot right to the lead and was caught by War Chant in the final jump.

Meadowlands surface raises concern

Some riders have expressed concerns about the safety of The Meadowlands track after a Jockeys' Guild representative, Larry Saumell, dug up samples of the newly laid strip Tuesday and found it full of pebbles and stones.

The Meadowlands, a harness track most of the year, is converted for Thoroughbred racing every fall.

"Based on what we saw, the riders aren't happy with it," said Saumell, who has 30 years' of experience as a jockey.

Saumell received assurances from track management that the strip will be sifted before opening night to remove debris. The jockeys will review the surface next week to monitor the progress.

"It's a safety issue," said jockey Eddie King. "We don't want it to come to a point where we don't ride."

Foreign material in the track is a sensitive issue for Saumell, who was hit in the left eye with a clod of frozen mud and rock salt in March 1974 at Garden State Park. It cracked three pair of goggles and damaged Saumell's cornea.

Saumell needed 14 operations on the eye.