01/18/2008 12:00AM

Kentucky trainers praise Pro-Ride

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Time will tell if Santa Anita's Cushion Track surface will have its drainage problems alleviated by the addition of binding materials and fibers from the synthetic Pro-Ride surface in upcoming weeks. But trainers in Kentucky familiar with the Pro-Ride surface say they have been pleased training horses over it.

Trainers Ian Wilkes, Niall O'Callaghan, and Tom Drury - who train at Skylight Training Center, about 30 minutes outside Louisville in Oldham County - said Friday they have experienced no problems with the Pro-Ride surface since it replaced the training facility's old dirt surface in August. They said that Pro-Ride has withstood a wide range of weather, from summer heat to sub-freezing temperatures at times this winter.

"Whether it's been 8 degrees or 98 degrees, it's been consistent," Drury said.

Perhaps most important, as the surface relates to Santa Anita, Skylight Training Center has not had any drainage issues, the trainers said. In December, when more than 7o1/2 inches of precipitation fell in the Louisville area, nearly four inches above normal, the track drained well, Drury said.

"I was worried about runoff spots since we've have some pretty good downpours," he said. "But even after it has poured, we've been able to put one on the fence [to breeze], just as we have when it has not rained for weeks at a time."

Still, both Drury and Wilkes cautioned that it is too early to tell how Pro-Ride will hold up at Skylight over an extended period of time, which will be the true test of its effectiveness. "It's wonderful, but it's only been in since August," said Wilkes. "It's hasn't been through the winter."

Because the Pro-Ride materials are being added to the Cushion Track at Santa Anita, not installed from scratch as at Skylight, the Santa Anita surface may take on a different look and composition than the Skylight surface.

Beyond having a darker color than other synthetic surfaces, the chief difference between Pro-Ride and other synthetic surfaces is that it uses polyurethane as a compound in the surface, not wax as a coating.

"This track is fast but safe," O'Callaghan said. "It's spongy. There are no hoof marks after a horse goes by."

Besides Drury, O'Callaghan, and Wilkes, trainers Carl Nafzger and Donnie Grego also train at Skylight.

Our Dancing Babe back on right track

Last Friday, Our Dancing Babe paraded around the Keeneland auction ring during the January horses-of-all-ages sale.

On Sunday, the parading she will be doing will be over the Turfway Park racetrack when she heads a field of eight in the featured eighth race, a $28,000 third-level allowance.

Our Dancing Babe, who failed to meet her reserve and was bought back by owner David A. Ross when bidding stalled at $220,000, returns to Turfway's synthetic Polytrack surface for Sunday's race, after racing recently on turf at Fair Grounds.

On Nov. 24 she ran second behind Autobahn Girl in the Pago Hop, before finishing a troubled 12th in the Furl Sail against older mares Dec. 29.

Returning to Polytrack, a surface on which she won the Valdale Stakes at Turfway last February, she seems primed for a top performance. "She is as good on the Polytrack, if not better, than she is on the turf," trainer Daniel Smithwick said.

Smithwick also starts Le Perouse, an El Prado mare who rallied for third in a similar allowance at Turfway Jan. 1.

Our Dancing Babe runs best when allowed to fall far off the pace before launching a late run, but Smithwick is hopeful La Perouse can lay closer to the leaders than she did last out, when she fell nine lengths off the pace before closing the gap to three lengths at the wire.

Other contenders include stakes winners Water Gap and Amature's Prize and Now More Than Ever, a stakes-placed More Than Ready mare coming off a runner-up finish under similar allowance conditions.

Competition for horses increases

With Mountaineer Park reopening Saturday following a break of racing of nearly three weeks, and with the Oaklawn Park meet under way, increased racing options for horsemen could cause a reduction in field size at Turfway Park.

Heading into Friday, Turfway was averaging nearly nine starters per race, down from the 10.1 starters it averaged during its December holiday meet, when the track was flush with horses in this region.

Turfway finished its 2007 winter/spring meet with an average of 8.3 starters after averaging 10.2 per race during the 2006 holiday meet.

* An excerpt from former jockey Shane Sellers's autobiography, "Freedom's Rein," co-authored with Tricia Psarreas, can be found at www.freedomsrein.com. The book is set for release April 15.