08/01/2001 12:00AM

First up, Gov. Cup on turf

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Horses running in the first half of the daily double are most often the cheapest and slowest on the grounds of any racetrack. Friday night's opener at Penn National, however, is reserved for the track's oldest and most prestigious stakes.

In an unusual bit of scheduling, the $100,000 Pennsylvania Governor's Cup Handicap, run at 1 1/16 miles on turf, is the first race on a program that begins at 7:20 p.m. The Governor's Cup, contested on Sunday afternoon in its previous 28 runnings, was moved to Friday night this season when Penn National dropped Sunday racing. Because the track's turf course has no lights, grass races must be run no later than the third race on the card.

Cynics Beware and Grundlefoot, both of whom finished close behind two of the nation's top older turfers this season, appear to be the most formidable threats in the 12-horse field.

Cynics Beware, a 7-year-old gelding who placed third in last year's Governor's Cup, is 0 for 3 this year. His best race came May 19 at Pimlico, when he finished third in the Grade 2 Dixie Handicap. He was beaten just 2 3/4 lengths by Hap, who returned to win the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch opening week at Saratoga.

David Cora, Penn National's leading rider, has been named to ride Cynics Beware, the 116-pound highweight.

Grundlefoot, a 4-year-old colt trained by Gary Capuano, made his turf debut in the 1 1/2-mile Cape Henlopen Handicap at Delaware Park on July 22 and rallied strongly to finish second behind classy turf veteran John's Call. Rick Wilson, who rode Grundlefoot for the first time in the Cape Henlopen, has accepted a return call.

Medievil Hero and Warrant are also logical contenders. Medievil Hero, a Kentucky-based 5-year-old horse trained by Mary Jo Lohmeier, comes into the race off a close second as the odds-on favorite in the July 3 Independence Handicap at Mountaineer Park. Warrant is razor sharp after winning three straight high-priced optional claiming races in Maryland and Delaware.

Sir Echo is an intriguing longshot and the lightweight at 108 pounds. A 10-year-old gelding with 14 lifetime turf wins on his record, Sir Echo prepped for the Governor's Cup by running in a five-furlong turf stakes at Philadelphia Park last Saturday. Two years ago, Sir Echo ran third in the Governor's Cup at 33-1.