03/11/2002 12:00AM

Late call to take race off turf leaves Gulf bettors stuck


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Turf racing resumed as scheduled at Gulfstream Park on Monday, the day after a last-minute decision to take the 11th race off the grass created an uproar among fans and horsemen.

The decision to take Sunday's finale off the turf came after jockeys voted unanimously not to ride over a course they felt was loose and unsafe. But neither the fans nor the horsemen were informed of the change until the horses were entering the paddock for the 11th race. By that time, the result of the 10th race, the Creme Fraiche Handicap, was official, and all daily double, pick three, and pick six wagers were locked into the tote machines.

Monday's two turf races went off without incident with the temporary rail set at 30 feet, about 10 feet farther from the inside hedge than Sunday. "The course was much firmer out where we ran today," said Edgar Prado, who finished third aboard the pace-setting Tryst's Dancer in Monday's fourth race.

Sunday, the 10 starters were already in the saddling enclosure for the 11th race when the change was announced, and three horses were immediately scratched, including Bluebird Day, who was even money at the time and the overwhelming favorite in all exotic pools.

Fans became angry because they were unable to get a refund on daily double wagers that were made based on the 11th race being run on the turf. Although consolation daily doubles were paid on the three scratched horses, players still alive in the late double with 10th-race winner Hal's Hope were stuck with their turf selections for the finale. Patrons alive in the pick three and pick six were given the post-time favorite, Moussica, who finished fourth. The 11th race was ultimately won by Starbrow, the longest shot on the board, who paid $50.80.

The only live ticket on Sunday's pick six, worth in excess of $35,000 if correct, had Bluebird Day as the selection in the finale, which reverted to Moussica and resulted in a consolation payoff of $7,625.

"I don't think you guys want to talk to me right now," George "Rusty" Arnold II, the trainer of Bluebird Day, told reporters on Sunday. "We weren't told anything about this until we walked into the paddock. The information came to us very slow. You'd think management had enough time to let us know before they did.

"I think this is a very nice horse, and I don't want to take a chance running him on the dirt especially without an opportunity to put rundowns on him."

Trainer Stanley Ersoff said he decided to run the filly Miss Absent despite the change. "None of us have the right bandages or the right shoes on our horses for the main track," Ersoff said. "I'm staying in the race to keep the game going, but this puts a real burden on us and a real burden on our horses."

Scott Savin, Gulfstream Park president and general manager, said: "The Gulfstream Park turf course is firm and in fine condition. We were told Rene Douglas was hit by a clod during the running of the ninth race, and he asked the other jockeys not to ride in the 11th. I wasn't informed of their decision until the horses in the 10th race were crossing the finish line."

The jockeys said they informed the stewards well before leaving the jockeys' room for the Creme Fraiche. State steward Walter Blum said the jockeys told the stewards within minutes after the ninth race was official.

"I won the ninth race on the turf, and by the time I returned to the jockeys' room, I was told by the other riders they had already called the stewards and said they weren't going to ride," Prado said Sunday. "Ray Charles can see things flying around out there. It was definitely dangerous out there."

"I've got a black eye and was almost knocked down by a clod in the ninth race," Douglas said, pointing to a mark near his left eye made by the clod. "Believe me, nobody likes to ride on the turf any better than me. I wish all the races were on grass."

John Velazquez said that he was also struck by a clod during the ninth race and that the course was not safe. "The clods were coming back in big pieces," Velazquez said. "In addition, the horses were hitting holes and not handling the course well."