08/31/2005 12:00AM

Jump races scratched at Spa


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Because of a soaked turf course on Wednesday morning, Saratoga officials decided to scratch both steeplechases races on the card - an allowance race and the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase Handicap. The remnants of Hurricane Katrina dumped about 1 1/2 inches of rain on the area overnight.

The $150,000 Turf Writers Cup, the premier steeplechase race of the meet, was rescheduled as the first of 10 races on Friday. The allowance race was canceled. As a result, only seven races were run on Wednesday's card and the seventh and eighth races were moved from the grass to the main track. First post on Wednesday was 2:10 p.m., and the card started with the third race. There was free grandstand and reduced clubhouse admission.

Attendance Wednesday was 7,734, the first time since Sept. 3, 1998 - a streak of 250 race days - that the track had fewer than 10,000 people.

Several trainers who entered horses in the Turf Writers Cup called the track's decision to postpone the race unprecedented.

"To the best of my knowledge, it's a first," said Jonathan Sheppard, the all-time leading money-winning steeplechase trainer, who was to saddle Three Carat. "We've run in some very adverse conditions before. Riders are usually more cognizant then of the conditions and more conservative in the early parts of the race."

Said Doug Fout, trainer of likely favorite Hirapour: "I can't ever remember a Grade 1 stake being canceled off the grass. I can understand their point of view. The main thing was for safety purposes. I'm very disappointed but you have to go with the flow. I don't want to second guess their decision."

Track superintendent John Passero said the amount of rain that fell Tuesday and early Wednesday prompted him to recommend that no racing be conducted on the turf course.

"I felt there was no way to get over this thing [safely]," Passero said of the course. "I'm looking out for NYRA, our best interests, and also steeplechase, and their best interests. That was it in a nutshell. We didn't want to do anything stupid.''

Steeplechase racing has caused significant controversy this meet, with horses being eased, multiple spills, and jockey injuries in several races. On Aug. 17, only two horses of nine finished in an allowance race.

Sheppard, the National Steeplechase Association president, was scheduled to meet with New York Racing Association officials on Wednesday to discuss the future of steeplechase at Saratoga in light of this meet's complications.

"We're not negotiating from a strong point," Sheppard acknowledged.

The field for the Turf Writers Cup remains the same for Friday. Hirapour, last year's Eclipse Award-winning steeplechase horse, is the 158-pound highweight and will be reunited with jockey Matt McCarron, who broke his left arm in a steeplechase race the opening day of the meet. Hirapour ran third off a 3 1/2-month layoff in the Grade 2 A.P. Smithwick Memorial on Aug. 8, a race Fout thought Hirapour needed to be sharp for the Turf Writers Cup.

Now, Fout said, Hirapour is "dead fit" for this race - so fit, in fact, that after finding out Wednesday that the race was postponed to Friday, Fout sent him out for a strong gallop along the street on Fifth Avenue - behind the Oklahoma training area - rather than take a chance training on the soft turf.

Paradise's Boss, trained by Jack Fisher, won the A.P. Smithwick for his third win in a row, and a Turf Writers Cup victory would catapult him to the top of the steeplechase division. He is trying to become the fifth horse to sweep the Smithwick and Turf Writers in the same year.