02/03/2004 1:00AM

Fort Erie to get new surface

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The 2004 Fort Erie meeting, originally scheduled to end on Nov. 22, will now end Sept. 6 to allow for the construction of a new main track.

The new schedule, which will have to be approved by the Ontario Racing Commission, will include 81 live racing days. Original plans had called for a 117-day meet.

Butch Passero, a racetrack consultant, will assist in the project. Fort Erie's main track was a source of some concern last year, when three full cards plus most of two others were canceled.

"We'll finish with a bang on Labor Day Monday, and then we're going to start total reconstruction of the racetrack the next day," said Eddie Lynn, Fort Erie's general manager.

Lynn said that the schedule shortening "is being done in joint cooperation with the racing commission, the horsemen, and the jockeys."

Nick Coukos, executive director for the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said, "It's unfortunate that we have to shorten our race dates for 2004, but we certainly recognize the long-term benefit that this rebuilding of the racetrack surface is going to give the horsepeople of Fort Erie."