07/06/2006 11:00PM

Inner dirt oval gets first passengers

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Michael Burns
Several horses worked or galloped over the new surface of Woodbine's former Standardbred track on Friday.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine's converted Standardbred racetrack got its first road test on Friday morning and received a passing grade. The track will host dirt racing here beginning Saturday and through the end of August while a new Polytrack surface is installed on the main track.

Woodbine raced on its former dirt surface for the final time last Monday, and began moving that track's cushion to the inner oval on Tuesday morning.

Twelve horses worked over the seven-furlong inner oval, all with jockeys aboard, during Friday's half-hour training session, which began at 6 a.m. Another seven horses galloped.

"Basically, the overall response was positive," said Chris Evans, Woodbine's vice president of Thoroughbred racing, who spoke with the jockeys as they exited the track. "The track was firm - maybe a little too firm - but that was expected. We compacted the track Thursday and watered it all day.

"They'd like us to dig into it a little bit, soften it up. We're adding sand to it today."

Bold Corky, an unstarted 2-year-old filly trained by Sue Leslie, was the first horse to set foot on the new surface.

"I was very happy with it," said Leslie, who also is a director of the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "On behalf of the horsemen, we need to thank Woodbine for their efforts. They've done a great job in such a short period of time."

Jockey Robert Landry rode Bold Corky and returned to work Sassy Star, a 4-year-old maiden filly trained by Leslie who breezed four furlongs in 48.40 seconds.

"Naturally, it's on the firmer side, since they just finished compacting it," said Landry. "But I thought it was great. The two horses I went around on handled it fine."

Landry saw no problem with the turns on the inner oval. He is one of a handful of jockeys here who rode at Greenwood, the six-furlong downtown Toronto racetrack that closed at the end of 1993.

Apprentice jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson, who is looking for her second consecutive leading rider title at the meeting, also was happy with the surface.

Wilson was aboard Purrfect Proposal, an unraced 2-year-old filly trained by Renee Kierans who worked five furlongs in 1:00.

"I was very impressed," said Wilson. "It was a quick track; they wanted to make sure everything was packed down. I'm sure horses working over it will help it."

Wilson, who has never ridden on a racetrack shorter than one mile, found the inner track's tighter turns to be very kind.

"The track kind of eases you into the turn," said Wilson. "The 2-year-old I was on has not been one to handle turns real well, but he handled it excellent."

Reade Baker, the leading trainer at the meeting, sent out Storm Caller to breeze five furlongs in 1:03 and Backgammon, who is entered in Saturday's Clarendon Stakes, to gallop. Both were ridden by jockey Jim McAleney.

"The times weren't as quick as I was worried they'd be," said Baker. "But the track sounded very hard."

McAleney echoed Baker's concern.

"I thought the surface was too hard right now," said McAleney. "But it's even and consistent. The turns are brilliant."

Trainer Roger Attfield sent out four gallopers during the session.

"I think they've done a great job," said Attfield. "It's a little hard, but I'm sure they're going to open it up. I galloped around on the pony, myself. I had flashbacks of Greenwood."

Meanwhile, several finishing touches were to be applied before the track debuted on Saturday.

Some jockeys said it is hard to see the fence that is serving as the outer rail here. A white tube is being installed on the top of the fence to alleviate that potential problem.

Evans said the far outside part of the track, a strip of about two feet, still needed to be compacted.