09/11/2006 12:00AM

Belmont turf condition concerns riders

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Concerns over the condition of both turf courses at Belmont Park prompted New York Racing Association officials to move three of Sunday's five scheduled grass races to the dirt and will limit the number of turf races carded for the immediate future.

Jockeys expressed concern about the turf after the fifth race on Saturday's card, one in which Open Debate, a 3-year-old maiden trained by Allen Jerkens, suffered a broken leg and had to be euthanized. However, the jockeys agreed to ride the remainder of Saturday's grass races, which included two Grade 1 stakes. Their concerns prompted NYRA management to announce late Saturday that three of Sunday's races would be moved to the dirt. One turf race was kept on each course.

NYRA management said the turf courses - which hadn't been used since late July - hadn't properly dried out from a rainy Labor Day weekend and some additional showers on Sept 5. It has not rained in this area since that time.

John Passero, NYRA's director of racing surfaces, said all the rain created a situation where the roots were shallow, and thus easily torn. Passero labeled the turf courses good for Friday and Saturday when a total of nine turf races were run. Four of the five races carded for Sunday were for the Widener, or outer turf course. Passero said the inner course dries better than the outer course.

There are three turf races carded for both Wednesday and Thursday.

"With the heavy rains and cool temperatures last week coupled with the shallow roots this time of year, it resulted in the turf courses not holding up as well as we had hoped," Passero said.

However, jockey Richard Migliore didn't necessarily agree that it was all weather related.

"If it was rain, it would be soft all the way around," Migliore said. "But how come it's good to firm turf for an eighth of a mile, then it's soft to yielding the next eighth of a mile, then it's hard for a sixteenth of a mile, and then it's mushy? There's no consistency to it and we're ripping it up. We're bringing [large] clods up and horses are bobbling and stumbling all over the place."

Trainer John Kimmel walked the outer course on Sunday and thought it was softer the further out he walked on it. One of the three horses Kimmel ran on the turf Saturday came back with a bruised foot.

Passero cut the grass and rolled it in an effort to tighten it up on Sunday. On Monday, he planned to put the rail out 10 feet on both the Widener and inner turf course.

While dry conditions were expected to be prevalent through Wednesday, there is a 60-percent chance of showers on Thursday and a 30-percent chance on Friday.