02/20/2009 1:00AM

Lost cards being taken in stride


Winter racing and the occasional cancellation go hand in hand. Two years ago, Turfway Park saw eight cancellations, and after most of a nine-race card was scrapped Thursday, the count reached six for the 2009 winter-spring meet.

The track's president, Bob Elliston, long has maintained that the Polytrack surface installed in 2005 at the Florence, Ky., track was designed in part to help reduce the number of cancellations, not completely eliminate them. With the track's previous dirt surface, the number of cancellations during a meet could reach double digits, often because of the track condition.

"Hopefully the weather will cooperate from here on out, although we've had snow on Lane's End Day before," Elliston said with a laugh, referring to the annual showcase day in late March.

The track canceled the Thursday card after three races, citing wind-chill temperatures in the single digits. The previous cancellations so far this meet came Jan. 15-16 (subzero wind chill), Jan. 28-29 (ice storm, impassable roads), and Jan. 31 (ice in track surface, lost power in local area).

A horse broke down during the third race Thursday and was euthanized afterward, but Elliston was adamant in saying that the track surface remains "extraordinarily safe." The death of Kays Kitty Cat, a 5-year-old maiden whose only prior race was a 40-length defeat, marked the second in as many days. Sprintin' Jimmy, a 4-year-old gelding with 11 prior starts, suffered a similar fate in the fifth race Wednesday.

The catastrophic breakdowns were the third and fourth at Turfway since Jan. 1. At the holiday meet in December, eight horses died because of injuries at the track, after which rules were changed back to allow horses to race with rear toe-grabs.

"We have not had an ambulance run during morning training hours since March 17, 2008," said Elliston. "If there was a problem with safety on the racetrack, it would have to be manifested during training hours. I'd think the fact we haven't had an ambulance run in nearly a year points that out.

"We are extremely sensitive to track safety. Every day, we ask jockeys, trainers, and veterinarians for their feedback. We even have exercise riders anonymously fill out grading evaluations to help us keep it as safe as humanly possible."

Meanwhile, fields are averaging about 8.5 starters per race at the winter-spring meet, which is well below the average of about 10 that Turfway typically gets for races at the fall meet in September and holiday meet in December.

"It's normal for us to see the drop-off to the mid-eight range in January and February, for various reasons," said Elliston. "We usually tick up in March when horses start making it back from Fair Grounds and Florida in preparation for the Keeneland spring meet."P

Brass Hat may try Oaklawn

Brass Hat, the 8-year-old gelding who was not a factor last weekend in the Dust Commander Stakes, his first start in eight months, might run next in an allowance race at Oaklawn Park, said trainer Buff Bradley.

"He came out of the race fine," said Bradley. "It seemed to me that he was never interested in running and that he may not have cared for the track. In any case, we'll give him a few more shots if he stays sound and healthy, but if he shows no interest we'll stop."

Based at Turfway, Brass Hat is a multiple graded stakes winner of nearly $1.8 million.

White horse in feature

The Sunday feature at Turfway will offer a little more color than usual - or, to be more precise, a lack thereof.

Patchen Prince, a rare Thoroughbred in that he is registered as "white" with The Jockey Club, is one of eight 3-year-olds and upward entered in the eighth of nine Sunday races. Bred and owned by the Patchen Wilkes Farm of Warren Rosenthal, Patchen Prince appears to stand a fighting chance in the $24,000, one-mile allowance, in which he will be coming off a two-length triumph in a Jan. 18 maiden race at Turfway.

Bill Connelly is the trainer of 4-year-old Patchen Prince. Connelly, by the way, is nearing a notable milestone, having recently saddled his 990th winner. This is the 30th year that Connelly, 52, has been a trainer, having started his career in 1980.

* Prospective candidates for the "Chief Party Officer" for the May 2 Kentucky Derby are still being sought by Churchill Downs. Applicants must be age 21 to 34 and submit a two-minute video explaining why they have what it takes to "lead the biggest party in the nation," the Churchill infield on Derby Day, according to a track release. More information is available at .