09/26/2001 12:00AM

Bienvenido tops first-day card


PHOENIX - When the temperature finally gets down to the century mark or below, it signifies not only the start of fall, but the start of live racing in the Phoenix area. The 166-day Turf Paradise meet begins Friday with the $22,000 Bienvenido Stakes, a mile race for 3-year-olds and upward. Turf Paradise runs through May 19, 2001, primarily on a Friday-through-Tuesday basis, with holidays and special event changes altering the schedule.

Last season was a roller-coaster ride, highlighted by record handle and purse figures, but marred by continuing inquiries into track ownership and the ongoing battle with the state and Indian casinos. Hurdles remain but full-card simulcasting has enabled track management to boost the daily purse allotment and the purses of a number of stakes for this season. That news has been greeted by a record number of stall applications.

The Bienvenido has lured a field of eight, led by multiple local stakes winner Go Bux. The Molly Pearson trainee has won 14 of 54 overall, with 13 of those wins coming here. He may well go off the favorite, but there remain questions. First, his last win came here in April 2000, and it was on the turf. After running third at Pleasanton in June 2000 he wasn't seen again for over a year. He reappeared at Del Mar July 23 where he was no factor sprinting vs. $50,000 claimers. He was next sent

1 1/16 miles on the turf at Del Mar vs. $40,000 claimers, but again was no factor.

Scott Stevens has the call from the rail.

The main challenge may come from Emerald invader Cascade Casey. Unlike Go Bux, Cascade Casey comes here in solid form, having rattled off four straight thirds against $25,000 claimers at Emerald. In one of those races he was moved up to second via a disqualification. His current form is much sharper than Go Bux's; Go Bux hasn't won since 2000.

The Frank Lucarelli trainee figures to fall into a good trip stalking under Frank Gonsalves. He leaves from the extreme outside (post no. 8) but with plenty of speed to his left he figures to tuck in and avoid getting hung out to dry.

Ceetoit is another Emerald shipper who comes here sharp, also for Lucarelli. However, Ceetoit was routinely facing much cheaper than what Cascade Casey was facing. Ceetoit is pretty much a one-dimensional speedster. The presence of sprinter Affair to Be and sometime speed horse King of Knights makes getting a clear lead a tall order.



RACING SCHEDULE: Sept. 28 through May 19, Fridays through Tuesdays. Closed Dec. 17, Dec. 24-25, and May 14-15. Open Dec. 18-19, Dec. 27, April 17-18, April 24-25.

POST TIME: Weekdays, 12:30 p.m.; weekends and holidays, 12:40 p.m.

ADMISSION: Grandstand, $2 (seniors $1); clubhouse and turf club, $4.

PARKING: General, $1; valet, $3.

HIGHLIGHTS: $150,000 Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup, Feb. 2, $75,000 Arizona Oaks, Feb. 2; $100,000 Turf Paradise Derby, Feb. 2; $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup, March 9.

LOCATION: 1501 West Bell Road, Phoenix. One mile east of I-17 on Bell Road and 15th Avenue.

PHONE: (602) 942-1101

INTERNET: www.turfparadise.com