11/08/2002 12:00AM

Bertie gives turf a thumbs up

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - One obvious question surrounded the feature race Thursday at Churchill Downs: Would Allamerican Bertie care for the turf?

The answer was a resounding yes.

Allamerican Bertie, a 3-year-old filly who finished a close second to Farda Amiga in the Alabama Stakes in August, led all the way under Pat Day to win her turf debut with ease. Allamerican Bertie, owned by the Klein family of Louisville, won the $55,475 allowance race by eight lengths, defeating seasoned turf mares such as Histoire Saint, Solvig, and Sitka. She returned $3.60 as the heavy favorite.

Allamerican Bertie will race next in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile dirt race here Nov. 28. The $250,000 Falls City also is expected to get Take Charge Lady and probably several returnees from the Churchill Downs Distaff.

Sky Mesa healthy

Trainer John Ward Jr. said Friday that Sky Mesa, the colt who was scratched as the favorite from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile because of an ankle sprain, was given a "clean bill of health" this week after undergoing a thorough examination by veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage at the Rood and Riddle clinic in Lexington.

"We're hand-walking the colt about an hour every day, and he's walking real sound," said Ward. "The good thing is we were going to have him do nothing for about six weeks after the Breeders' Cup, and that's how much time he's going to miss. We'll take him down to Palm Beach Downs [in south Florida] about the second week of December and take it from there."

New twist for turf races

Churchill on Thursday unveiled a new wrinkle to its everyday racing program: an expanded also-eligibles list for grass races.

Before Thursday, turf races were carded with a maximum of 14 horses, with only 10 allowed to start. The new policy allows as many as 18 horses to be listed on the program.

"You'll probably only see that when there's the possibility of the race coming off the grass," said racing secretary Doug Bredar. "We're doing it to accommodate horses entered as main track only. It gives us more options to keep a big field, regardless of whether the race is on dirt or grass."

The first time the policy was in effect, the only horse to make the race off the also-eligibles list was the winner. Devil's Gulch, wearing the No. 14 saddlecloth, easily won the sixth race Thursday, defeating nine others from the main body of the race.

* Jockey Jon Court took off all mounts Friday because of a sore back. It was unclear whether Court would be able to ride Saturday.