05/22/2001 11:00PM

DRF's around the ovals

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Running in a series of turf races isn't the ordinary path a horse takes to prepare for a major graded stakes on dirt. Trainer Robert Leonard, however, insists there's a method to his madness with his 4-year-old filly Crystal Sea.

Leonard ran Crystal Sea in last Friday's Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap on turf at Pimlico, where she placed third, and intends to keep her on the grass for the $75,000 Rosenna Stakes on June 4 at Delaware Park.

The ultimate goal, however, is the premier race of Delaware's meet, the $600,000 Delaware Handicap, a Grade 3 dirt race at 1 1/4 miles on July 22.

Leonard said the schedule of prep races he has plotted out makes sense for this particular horse.

"Our plan is to give her another grass race, although she is not necessarily a grass horse and she is better on the dirt than she is on the grass," Leonard said. "The grass around here is easier on them this time of year. We have a fairly long year to go with her, so we are trying to do it where the races are easiest on her."

Beyond the Rosenna, Leonard plans to give Crystal Sea at least one dirt race - the 1 1/8-mile Obeah Stakes on June 24 - before tackling the Delaware Handicap.

Crystal Sea, who has a career record of 5-4-2 in 14 starts, has been versatile enough to win at distances ranging from five furlongs on turf to a mile on dirt against males.

Leonard explained that the difficulty he has training Crystal Sea often results in entering her in some odd races.

"We have a hard time getting her to train," he said. "She won't gallop around the track, so we have had to invent ways to train her. So when we get her good and healthy, we just pick whatever race is available. It doesn't make a difference what it is."

Apprentice rider Jeremy Rose appears to be a rising star.

Rose, 22, a native of Bellafonte, Pa., ranks third in the standings with 18 wins through Tuesday. Rose earned his first career stakes victory aboard the Tim Ritchey-trained Citiroyal in the Francis "Jock" LaBelle Memorial.

Ritchey, a four-time leading trainer at Delaware, is highly impressed with how Rose rides.

"I think he is the best young rider to come along in 20 years," Ritchey said. "I will not use an apprentice unless I think they are a good, solid rider."

Ritchey noted that the last two apprentices he regularly used were Edgar Prado and Kent Desormeaux. He thinks Rose could have the same type of talent.

"I think he has a real chance to win the Eclipse Award as the top apprentice in the country," Ritchey said.

Anthony Black took over the lead in the jockey standings by riding five winners in seven mounts on last Saturday's program.

Black, 49, rode two winners apiece for trainers Bob Camac and Mike Pino and one for Allen Borosh.

Five jockeys share the track record of riding six wins on a card. The feat was most recently done by Mike McCarthy in 1998.

- Joe DeVivo

Fairmount Park

Mike Gale, who has won more races at Fairmount Park than any other rider competing at the meet, waited for warmer weather to start his season this year after having taken the winter off. Gale rode his first winner in Saturday's fourth aboard Runforthecherries ($5.80) for trainer Eddie Essenpreis and looks ready to resume his customary role in the upper echelon of the rider standings here.

Trainer Charles Walker Jr., who has a small, family-run stable, sent out three winners on Saturday's card. Honey's Fact ($6.40), owned by Walker's daughter Amy, won the seventh with Marcial Campos aboard. Salem Drive ($8) took the eighth under apprentice Chris Rosier, and Gray Liberation ($24.20) won the 10th with Campos again in the irons.

In Tuesday afternoon's eighth race, Landofmilknhoney ($6.80) won for the fourth time in six starts this year for trainer Ron Brandenburg. Rallying from off the pace for jockey Mike James, Landofmilknhoney won the mile optional claimer in 1:42.

- Rod Peck

Great Lakes Downs

MUSKEGON, Mich. - Trainer William Thorne was honored Monday night at Great Lakes Downs when the first race was run in his memory. Majestic Falls, owned by Ron Bieke and trainer Bob Gorham, won the race under jockey Freddie Mata.

Thorne died of a heart attack May 15 as he sat in his regular spot at Great Lakes Downs while watching the races. Thorne, 72, kept a stable of eight horses at Great Lakes Downs. During Saturday evening's card, there was a moment of silence in memory of Thorne after the first race, when the jockey colony and others gathered in the winner's circle.

This year's jockey standings look similar to last year's. Freddie Mata, last year's leading rider, is in the lead with 23 victories, followed by Terry Houghton with 21. Mary Doser is third with 14 wins. Houghton had a triple on Monday, winning the sixth aboard Ambitious Dancer ($5), the seventh with Halo Springs ($4), and the nightcap with M. P. R.'s Baby ($4.20).

Ambitious Dancer is trained by Ronnie Allen, who has emerged as the top trainer with eight wins from 21 starts. Pedro Martinez is in second place in the trainer standings, with six wins.

- C.A. Shoemaker

State Fair Park

LINCOLN, Neb. - Racing under the lights returned to State Fair Park Friday night. The shift in post times to 6 p.m. for weekday and Saturday cards was enabled when the lights that had been used for the infield race-car oval were moved back to their original positions to illuminate the horse racing surface.

The newly reconditioned base of the racing surface was given its first major test on Sunday when heavy rains arrived in the morning and continued throughout the nine-race card. The base was reconditioned this spring with fly ash, a by-product produced from coal-burning power plants.

As can be expected, some horses failed to handle the off going, but the track held up exceptionally well. In the past, prolonged rains allowed soft spots to develop in the base, resulting in horses taking bad steps and leading to canceled cards.

The surface produced exceptionally fast times Saturday evening when two track records were approached. Think Different, trained by Sean Foley, sped a mile in 1:37, two-fifths off the track record held by Buzz Bar.

In the following race Cheryl LeGrande sent out Seville's Runaway to clock a 1:10.60 for six furlongs, just one-fifth off track record.

This weekend features four days of racing as the track adds a special Monday card for Memorial Day. Post time will be 2 p.m. Monday with the Big Red Mile for older Nebraska-breds carded as the feature.

- Bill Hodtwalker

Retama Park

Wild Gear remained undefeated in three career starts when she rolled to a two-length win over male rivals in the $58,000 Manor Downs Futurity on Monday night at Retama Park near San Antonio. Runaway Verdict, the favorite, and Bayakoa's Image dead-heated for second place in the 4 1/2-furlong race, which was run in 52.96 seconds.

The Manor Downs Futurity was run at Retama Park because of the cancellation of Manor Downs's inaugural Thoroughbred meet. Manor Downs recently expanded its racing oval to seven furlongs, but incomplete construction at the track led to the cancellation of the meet, which was to start in April.

Wild Gear ($8.60) won her debut by 9 1/2 lengths last month at Lone Star for trainer Steve Asmussen. She returned in her next start to win a trial for the Manor Downs Futurity. Glen Murphy was aboard for her trial, and her win on Monday.

- Mary Rampellini