03/10/2002 12:00AM

Cancelled turf race has trainers and fans in an uproar


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The announcement came as the horses were walking into the paddock for Sunday's eleventh and final race at Gulfstream Park.

"Ladies and Gentlemen an important announcement," said track announcer Vic Stauffer. "Sunday's eleventh race has been taken off the turf and will be run on the main track."

Trainers looked at one another incredulously following Stauffer's announcement while a cascade of boos rained down from the grandstand.

The decision to move the eleventh race came after the jockeys informed management the grass course was unsafe and they would not ride on the turf. It also came after the tenth race, the Creme Fraiche Handicap, was official and all daily double, pick-3 and pick-6 wagers were locked into the tote machines.

Three of the ten starters, already in the saddling enclosure, were immediately scratched including morning line favorite Bluebird Day.

"I don't think you guys(the press) want to talk to me right now," said George(Rusty) Arnold 2nd, the trainer of Bluebird Day. "We weren't told anything about this until we walked into the paddock. The information came to us very slow. You think management had enough time to let us know before they did. I think this is a very nice horse and I don't want to take a chance running him on the dirt especially without an opportunity to put rundowns on him."

Arnold's colleague Stanley Ersoff ran his filly Miss Absent in the finale despite the change in venue.

"None of us have the right bandages or the right shoes on our horses for the main track," said Ersoff. Im staying in the race to keep the game going but this puts a real burden on us and a real burden on our horses."

Gulfstream Park president and General Manager Scott Savin said "the Gulfstream Park turf course is firm and in fine condition. We were told Rene Douglas was hit by a clod during the running of the ninth race and he asked the other jockeys not to ride in the eleventh. I wasn't informed of their decision until the horses in the tenth race were crossing the finish line."

The jockeys refuted that statement, unanimously agreeing that they informed the stewards of their decision not to ride on the grass well before leaving the room for the paddock for the Creme Fraiche. They also said the decision not to ride on the grass was unanimous and not spearheaded by any one or two riders.

"I won the ninth race on the turf and by the time I returned to the jockeys room after having my picture taken I was told by the other riders they had already called the stewards and said they weren't going to ride," said Edgar Prado. "Ray Charles can see things flying around out there. It was definitely dangerous out there."

"I've got a black eye and was almost knocked down by a clod in the ninth race," said Douglas showing off the mark near his left eye made by the clod. "Believe me nobody likes to ride on the turf any better than me. I wish all the races were on grass."

John Velazquez said he was also struck by a flying clod during the ninth race and that the course was not safe.

"The clods were coming back in big pieces," said Velazquez. "In addition the horses were hitting holes and not handling the course well. It is very loose out there. When something like this happens management always wants to blame the riders."

Like the trainers involved in the finale, the fans were in an uproar as they were unable to get a refund on their daily double wagers that were made based on the eleventh race being run on the turf. While consolation daily doubles were paid on the three scratched horses, those who were alive in the late double off tenth race winner Hal's Hope were stuck with their turf selections for the finale. Patrons alive in the pick-3 were given the post time favorite Moussica who finished fourth in the tenth race which was ultimately won by Starbrow, the longest shot on the board.