03/19/2002 1:00AM

High insurance rates cause trainers to flip


ALBANY, Calif. - California's high rates for workman's compensation insurance have led some trainers based in Washington and Canada to return to their home bases early. Other barns have consolidated in an effort to cut costs.

One trainer at Golden Gate Fields has come up with his own solution, one that can be seen in the entries for Thursday's feature race.

Listed as the trainer of record for Mt. Ouray is Elaine Wenstrom, a long-time assistant to Duane Offield. Offield is now listed as Wenstrom's assistant trainer.

The reason for the switch is that Wenstrom, as a new trainer, will be charged a significantly lower insurance rate.

Wenstrom, who has worked for Offield for 12 years, is winless in nine starts since taking over for Offield on March 1, although she has two seconds and two thirds.

Workman's compensation rates are also, in a way, why Mt. Ouray is in Wenstrom and Offield's barn.

Trainer David Forster left California after his rates soared when all insurance carriers but one dropped worker compensation coverage for racetracks in the state on March 1. With base prices as high as $43 per $100 in payroll for backstretch employees and $93.96 per mount for jockeys, Forster, like many of his fellow trainers, decided not to continue racing here.

He left Mt. Ouray with Wenstrom and Offield.

"Dave [Forster] says he'll go any place on the track," Offield said of Mt. Ouray.

On Thursday, Wenstrom will be trying for her first victory with Mt. Ouray in a one-mile $40,000 optional claiming race.

Mt. Ouray, who is stakes-placed in Canada, will make his first start since finishing fourth in the Sir Winston Churchill Handicap at Hastings in Vancouver, B.C., last Sept. 22.

Mt. Ouray has six works heading into Thursday's race, five coming while under Forster's care, and a six-furlong work in the slop on March 10 while under the care of Wenstrom.

In his comeback race, Mt. Ouray, who has won 2 of 20 starts and $70,570, could be a long price.

How Bout Jose, who has never finished off the board, and stablemate Money Shot could be favored. Remember Sheikh, the 2000 El Camino Real Derby winner, could also get support after running evenly in his comeback on March 3.

Strike for Glory, a beaten favorite when he could not overcome a speed bias with his late kick, should also have his share of backers.

Mi Quick, coming off a $56 upset win, and multi-stakes placed Secret Launch round out the field.

Blue Shell, another chance for Wenstrom

Wenstrom will have two other chances to visit the winner's circle on Thursday.

Her best chance could come in the sixth race, a six-furlong $8,000 claimer, with Blue Shell.

Blue Shell, owned by Offield and long-time client Charles Galea, scored a $64.20 upset in her debut on Feb. 27 with Offield as the listed trainer. She is making her second start and has a definite shot in a wide-open field.

Wenstrom will also saddle first-time starter Gray Panther in the eighth race, an $8,000, six-furlong maiden claimer.