11/24/2006 12:00AM

Looking to a winter of no discontent


The racing-surface revolution resumes Sunday at Turfway Park when the Florence, Ky., track opens for more than four straight months of live racing. On Sept. 7, 2005, Turfway was the first North American racetrack to employ Polytrack as its primary racing surface, and as the number of tracks doing the same continues to proliferate, the braintrust at Turfway grows ever prouder of the precedent they set.

"Polytrack met every expectation last winter, and we expect this winter to be just as successful," said Turfway's president, Bob Elliston.

In years past, Turfway was dogged by cancellations caused by its dirt track being susceptible to dangerous freeze-and-thaw patterns. But the only time the track canceled last year was because the weather was too cold and driving conditions too hazardous.

"Of course we'll change our schedule to protect our jockeys and horses, but otherwise we expect to race every scheduled day," said Elliston.

Other than the dominant Polytrack story line, the main feature of the long winter at Turfway is a steady diet of claiming races, with an occasional maiden special weight or allowance race thrown in. In addition, five stakes worth $50,000 apiece are scheduled for the holiday meet, which runs through Dec. 31, after which the annual highlight, the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes on March 24, will anchor a winter-spring meet that runs Jan. 1 through April 5. Technically, the winter is divided into two meets, but there is a seamless transition from one to the other, and virtually no one knows the difference.

The opening-day feature is a $23,700 second-level allowance sprint in which Cognac Kisses figures to get some relief from the rugged company he has been facing in recent months. Trained by locally based Chip Brownfield, and with Inocenscio Diego to ride, Cognac Kisses will break from post 3 in a full field of 3-year-olds and upward. Back in September, Cognac Kisses defeated the graded stakes winner Likely in the prep for the Kentucky Cup Sprint, but in three races since then, he has not had as much success knocking heads with talented crews.

Greg Foley, the dominant trainer here in recent years, is represented by Frontier Express in the feature, which anchors a nine-race opener. Generally, Turfway will card nine races on Sundays and weeknights, while 11 will be the norm for Fridays and 12 for Saturdays.

The first stakes of the holiday meet comes next Saturday with the Holiday Inaugural, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares.