12/29/2004 12:00AM

Galloping Gal breaks in new Gulfstream turf

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MIAMI - Trainers who came to south Florida this winter with a barn full of grass horses may be breathing just a little bit easier after Gulfstream Park's new turf course passed its first real test with flying colors Wednesday morning.

Galloping Gal, a multiple-stakes-winning filly trained by Ken McPeek, became the first runner to step foot onto the course, and the sight of a horse on the turf attracted a good deal of interest throughout the backstretch. Galloping Gal traveled once around the one-mile oval under exercise rider Helen Pitts, with the dogs set out well past the middle of the course.

"It's beautiful," said McPeek, who has 24 horses at Gulfstream and another 20 at Palm Meadows for the winter. "It will be fine. The whole renovation project here this year centered around the quality of the racetracks, and up to now everything's been just great. I'm looking forward to running my horses over both the main and turf tracks this winter."

After dismounting from Galloping Gal, Pitts was as enthusiastic as McPeek.

"It's real nice," said Pitts. "She traveled awesome over the course. There's not much bounce to it and the grass isn't real high, but it's smooth and rides beautifully. And it's nice when you come out of that last turn and see all that stretch in front of you."

Among those looking on anxiously from the newly constructed officials' stand high above the finish line was Tom Dillon, executive vice president of Magna International Developments. Dillon watched closely to see how the grass, which was not planted until mid-July, handled its first pounding from a horse's hooves.

"It looks great and sounds great," Dillon said as Galloping Gal passed underneath the stand. "The only thing to come up was a little dust, and that's just the top cover from the dirt blowing onto the course. This grass is absolutely top-of-the-line. It should be perfect."

Racing secretary Dave Bailey, also on hand for Galloping Gal's test run, will use the course sparingly during the early stages of the meet, carding only two grass races a day in January. He hopes to be able to run three or four turf races a day beginning in February.

Galloping Gal, one of many stakes-caliber horses in McPeek's barn, is being pointed for the $60,000 Marshua's River Stakes on Jan. 9.

McPeek is also hoping for big things this winter from Saranac Stakes winner Prince Arch; 2-year-olds Diamond Isle and Summer Man; and a couple of Brazilian imports, Durban Thunder and Givememore.

"I gave Prince Arch some time off after the Saranac," said McPeek. "I'm pointing him for the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup and would like to take him to Dubai for the Sheema Classic in March. Summer Man just broke his maiden and will run in the Aventura Stakes. Durban Thunder was the champion 2-year-old colt and Givememore the champion 2-year-old filly in Brazil this year, although they are officially listed as 3-year-olds in North America."

Givememore won her U.S. debut at Calder on Tuesday, rallying to upset the odds-on favorite Forestier in the Our Dear Peggy Stakes.

"I was really pleased with her performance, especially since she went into the race about only 80 percent fit," said McPeek.

Hymn of Love heads Flying Concert

Hymn of Love likely will be favored to defeat nine other fillies and mares in Friday's $40,000 Flying Concert Stakes over the turf at Calder. Trained by Christophe Clement, Hymn of Love finished fourth, beaten less than three lengths, in her U.S. debut here in the Soft Parade Stakes on Nov. 6. She then returned one month later to easily defeat third-level allowance rivals on the grass.

Vous is the class of the field, coming off a second-place finish behind the red-hot Hopelessly Devoted in the Calder Oaks, but she is unlikely to draw into the race off the also-eligible list.