01/28/2005 12:00AM

Different ways of handling the cold weather


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - It's been so cold around these parts this week that the clockers at Belmont Park had to use an electric heater to defrost the windows just so they could see the horses on the training track.

Of course, given the bone-chilling temperatures Thursday and Friday, there hasn't been much to see. On Thursday and Friday mornings, when the thermometer struggled to reach 10 degrees, only a few hearty souls sent their horses to the track.

About half of the 35 horses who recorded workouts at Belmont on those two mornings were from the Steve Asmussen barn. Toby Sheets, who runs Asmussen's New York stable, said he tries to keep as close to schedule as possible.

"It's been cold, yes, but the track's been fairly decent, and we've been able to stick to our schedule," said Sheets, who gets on some of the horses himself. "We normally don't work horses very fast, anyway."

Asked how difficult it is getting on horses when wind chills are below zero, Sheets said, "I don't like to talk about it because there's nothing nice to say. You just got to get through it."

Trainer Bruce Levine said he believes it could be more dangerous keeping horses in the barn than sending them to the track.

"I'd say the most important thing is to give them a couple of extra turns [around the barn] before they come out because when the horses come out of the stall they're usually stiffer from the cold," he said. "They're feeling good; you don't want them to run off and pull a muscle. I like to train, because they get so high going around the shed, so I like to come out here and let them train."

Because of the cold, the track is not watered, creating a deep, cuppy surface. For that reason, Levine doesn't work his horses over it.

Linda Rice, who has 30 horses in New York, also sent horses to the track the past two mornings.

"I'm just like Bruce," Rice said. "You're better off training them because horses get too fresh. They run off when they get out here. You're better off just sending them out."

Rice breezed three horses Friday, but shortened the distances and made sure they worked in hand so they wouldn't overexert themselves.

Pat Kelly said he sent about half of his stable to the track Thursday and the other half Friday.

"We don't breeze anything, just light exercise," Kelly said. "When the track is dry and cuppy because of the cold, I don't breeze."

Galloping Grocer on target

Though training was canceled for two days last weekend because of the snow, and despite the cold temperatures Thursday and Friday, trainer Dominick Schettino said Galloping Grocer remains on schedule for his 3-year-old debut in the Whirlaway here Feb. 12.

Galloping Grocer jogged in his barn Friday after putting forth a strong 1 1/2-mile gallop Thursday under Gary Richards. With temperatures expected to be near 30 on Saturday, Galloping Grocer was scheduled to work five furlongs.

"It's not really going to hurt him," Schettino said of the three days Galloping Grocer was unable to go to the track. "He's fit. [Thursday], he galloped along well. He's training fine. He's going to be fit for that race."

Angel Cordero, the agent for jockey John Velazquez, is expected to fly here from south Florida for Galloping Grocer's final workout next weekend.

"He volunteered to come up, and I talked to [owner] Bob Rosenthal, and we thought it wouldn't be a bad idea," Schettino said. "He breezed him all summer."

Though Velazquez has committed to ride Afleet Alex in his two or three starts at Oaklawn Park, he will still be able to ride Galloping Grocer in his three Derby preps since the dates do not conflict.