09/28/2005 11:00PM

Cause of track washout unknown

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Track management is puzzled about what caused a problem with the racing surface that led to the cancellation of racing here on Monday and Tuesday.

After training hours on Monday, while the floats and tractors were preparing the surface for the afternoon program, it was discovered that a small portion of the track, near the three-eighths pole and close to the rail, had washed away.

The problem wasn't detected earlier because dogs were up to protect the inner 15 feet of the track. Heavy rain on Sunday night rendered the surface sloppy.

The track around the affected area was replaced from the limestone up, and the two cards were canceled in order to give workers sufficient time to do the job.

The Fort Erie meet last year was shortened by two months in order to have its track rebuilt. The total cost was more than $2.5 million. This kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen.

Until Monday, the track surface had received nothing but rave reviews.

"We've had an abundance of rain and sloppy tracks this year and everything has been fine," said Herb McGirr Sr., director of operations. "It's just this one particular situation. We are still investigating how this thing happened. We will keep trying to figure out just what exactly the cause was."

It hasn't been decided yet how the lost days might be made up. There was an extra race carded for Saturday.

"We have a delicate balance in terms of working with the amount of horses we have," said McGirr. "We don't have as many horses left here at this time of year."

The meet is scheduled to end Nov. 1.

Morden closing in on Gonzalez

Lyle Morden saddled three winners in the two-day week to pull within two wins of Nick Gonzalez at the top of the trainer standings.

Gonzalez, who was shut out, has 38 wins, Morden 36. Tom Agosti, last year's leader, is in third place with 23.

Villeneuve still on the mend

Jockey Francine Villeneuve is probably through riding for this year.

Villeneuve was injured on July 31, when she landed on her shoulder during a spill at the Fort. Villeneuve, at the time, was in second place in the jockey standings with 47 wins.

"My left arm isn't 100 percent," said Villeneuve from Florida. "I'm kind of limited what I can do in a race. I'm not ruling out a return but I'm not coming back unless I'm 100 percent.

Villeneuve is on a farm in Florida that she owns with her husband, trainer and blacksmith Bruce Anderson. She originally had her sights set on returning to riding on Oct. 1.

"I've got our horses here to keep me busy and get me back in shape," she said. "Hopefully, this winter I can do some work at Tampa Bay and maybe ride there during the meet. I don't normally, but it would keep me in shape."