03/13/2008 11:00PM

Beulah prepares to reopen after cancellations


GROVE CITY, Ohio - Beulah Park is scheduled to reopen Monday after canceling its last 11 racing days due to weather-related problems with its racing surface. Beulah has canceled a total of 17 full or partial days since the beginning of the winter/spring meet on Jan. 7.

Beulah, a privately owned track in central Ohio, has raced winters for the past 10 years but has not had to cancel nearly as often in the past. Last year, the track canceled five full cards and one partial card during its winter/spring meet. In 2006, Beulah didn't lose a single program. In 2005, four full cards were canceled and four partial cards were lost due to either track conditions or winter weather.

But the Columbus, Ohio, area has had an unusual winter, with temperatures fluctuating from well below freezing to the 50s. The warmer temperatures have resulted in the base of the one-mile conventional dirt track thawing, which has resulted in sloppy, uneven tracks. Last week, the region was hit with a 20-inch snowstorm, and Beulah was unable to get equipment onto the saturated track to remove the snow, which was left there to melt on its own.

"It is just one of those things," said Dave Basler, executive director of the Ohio Horesmen's Benovelont and Protective Association. "I think it just finally caught up to them. Dating back to when they started a full winter schedule, they haven't had weather that severe. There is nothing they could do to prevent it. They have done everything humanly possible, but with the freeze and thawing and the 20 inches of snow, the clay base just didn't handle it. I think that is the problem and will have to be addressed at some point."

Beulah has a clay base underneath its track cushion, whereas most tracks, especially those that run in the winter, have limestone bases.

"The clay base just doesn't drain as well as the limestone," said Joe Deluca, a Beulah Park steward and supervisor of the track maintenance crew. "When we got the 20 inches of snow last week, I called around and got a lot of advice on how to handle it, and it was the consensus to leave it on and then level it out when it had melted.

"We tried getting a piece of equipment out there and it just caused huge ruts," he added. "We have had 9 or 10 inches of extra rain this winter, besides the big snowfall. The track just hasn't had time to dry out and the temperatures have fluctuated, causing the thawing and freezing."

The track conditions have limited the amount of days horsemen have been able to train.

"I brought back eight horses off a layoff at the end of January and was only able to get them out 13 times in the month of February, and only four so far in March," said trainer Doug Cowans. "So basically we are starting from scratch. Instead of being ready for some stakes we were pointing to in April, it will be the end of May or early June before they are ready."

Trainer T.R. Haehn echoed those sentiments.

"My horses haven't been to the track in over a week, and when you are able to get on to the track it is so uneven you really have to watch it," he said.

"I am worried about the future, not just now," Haehn added. "I need to have them sound for the summer, too. I have quit entering until I am sure we are going to run; you can't walk a horse and leave them in the stall for 10 or 11 days and then expect them to be able to run."

In the last week, horsemen requested that management cancel Friday and Saturday's cards on Wednesday rather than wait to see if the track would be useable.

"The costs start adding up when you medicate them with bute the night before, and then Lasix the day of, and then you don't run," Haehn said. "It is really tough on the ship-ins when you run two races and then cancel. Most of them are spending over $100 just in fuel to get up here and back. Owners are getting aggravated, paying a day rate and having their horses standing in their stalls."

Management hopes to reopen the track for training Sunday and to race Monday.

"We'll do everything we can and then it will be up to the jockeys," Deluca said.

The one positive aspect to the cancellations is that the horsemen's purse account, which was overpaid by $291,000 as of Feb. 24, is making progress repaying the money it owes to the track.

"We are counting these canceled days as live days, so the simulcast money goes to catching up the horsemen's account faster," general manager Mike Weiss said.