12/18/2004 1:00AM

Avid Skier could fill void left by retired Secret Romeo

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OLDSMAR Fla. - Some folks took Avid Skier a little lightly when he was entered in a five-furlong allowance sprint on opening day at Tampa Bay Downs because six of his last seven starts had come in middle-distance stakes and allowance races. But Gerald Bennett, the 3-year-old Avid Skier's trainer, wasn't one of them.

Bennett wasn't the least bit surprised when Avid Skier burst through between rivals out of the turn and ran down a stubborn Dirtymoposse to captured the sprint by a neck in an eye-catching 58.21 seconds, covering his final furlong in just a shade more than 12 seconds.

Although Avid Skier was sent off at 7-2, he was fourth choice in a field of nine.

"I was very confident he would run well in there, I told everybody this horse is probably more a natural sprinter than anything," Bennett said. "He got beat a head here going seven furlongs to a pretty good horse in Weigelia in the Sophomore Stakes on Florida Cup Day and was fourth in that sprint at Arlington," he added, referring to the Arlington Breeders' Cup Sprint Handicap.

"They ran that one in 1:08 and change. Unfortunately, the spots to sprint a 3-year-old are few and far between. Now that he's turning 4 there will be more opportunities for him," Bennett said.

"He knocked out over $100,000 this season and took on some tough nuts in the process."

Bennett, who won two races and finished third, beaten a head, with another runner on opening day, is hoping Avid Skier will fill the gap left by the retirement of Secret Romeo. Secret Romeo was one of the better sprinters in the Midwest and here the past few seasons.

"He's retired to stud," Bennett said with a sigh, "You don't get many like that one."

Giliforte still misses Franks

Losing a good owner is just as tough as losing a good horse, and Layne Giliforte lost a good one when when John Franks died on Dec. 31, 2003. Franks had one of the largest racing and breeding operations in the country and Giliforte handled a division for him.

"I went down to the office in Louisiana and visited with the folks there," Giliforte said. "The stable still had a few horses racing in California for Jerry Hollendorfer but basically November seventh was the final day for the operation. I have to tell you it was a pleasure to train for those folks. They let you do your thing, they respected your opinion, and gave me a chance to handle some nice horses."

Giliforte trains for Eugene and Laura Melnyk, who also have horses in training with several horsemen. Giliforte said he has high hopes for some youngsters he has for the couple.

"You never know with young horses, but we have a couple who look like they have some ability. Time will tell," he said.

Giliforte is coming off his best meeting locally and had won 68 races for the year coming into this meeting. He will have 15 horses here this season.

Local golfer joins LPGA

While racing is still the top attraction here, the Tampa golf facility is making quite a name for itself. Brittany Lincicome, a 19-year-old from Seminole, Fla., who works with the pros at the Tampa Bay Downs course, recently qualified for the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour.

Lincicome, who led after the first round of the U.S. Women's Open last summer, earned her LPGA card at the qualifying school held at Daytona Beach.