05/31/2005 11:00PM

Happy days almost here again

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The quarantine restrictions that have impacted the livelihoods of several trainers at Churchill Downs the last few weeks seem to have had a trickle-down effect on the overall racing program.

Deprived of the roughly 100 horses that otherwise would have helped races fill, Churchill racing generally has been marked by short and undistinguished fields. And although Steve Asmussen, Paul McGee, and Ronny Werner have absorbed the most painful brunt of the quarantine situation that began May 17, "it's been bad for everybody," said fellow trainer Tom Amoss.

"It not only creates this negative aura about our business, but it also has had a major effect on whether some races 'go' or not," he said. "Everybody has been pretty down about it."

But the bad times may soon be gone. Not only are the quarantine restrictions expected to be lifted by Saturday, but also a good-looking feature race here Friday evening might well be a sign that relief is imminent.

"It's a very good race," said Amoss, who has one of the major contenders, , in the field of six older sprinters. "In today's world, and I'm talking at any racetrack, you normally aren't able to get this good a group together, especially in a weekday allowance race."

Claimed by Maggi Moss for $40,000 last October, Premium Saltine was trained by Cody Autrey for three races before being turned over to Amoss. Given a four-month freshening, Premium Saltine has run two terrific races in as many starts for Amoss, winning a Hawthorne allowance in April and a minor stakes at Prairie Meadows on Kentucky Derby Day. Both times, Premium Saltine earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures.

"I didn't expect his race to be as good as it was at Prairie Meadows," said Amoss. "This will be a very good test for him Friday. Maybe there wasn't as much quality in the two races he's run for me, but we'll see. His works have been good since he got back from Iowa, but the general rule of thumb is that speed horses work well, and he's pretty fast. I'm as interested as anybody to see how he does Friday."

Premium Saltine, with Robby Albarado to ride, will break from post 2 in the ninth of 10 Friday races, a $67,000 classified allowance at 6 1/2 furlongs. His opponents are River Mountain Rd, Jimmy Cracked Corn, Private Horde, Level Playingfield, and Coach Jimi Lee.