10/18/2006 11:00PM

Maiden win gives Rombis a lift


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Trainer Debbie Rombis has had little to cheer about this year at Fort Erie.

Usually a fast starter, Rombis was slow out of the gate this spring. Then, on June 3, she was severely injured when a horse reared and toppled onto her as she was exiting the sand ring.

Rombis suffered a fractured tailbone and her pelvis was broken in three places. She was hospitalized for two months.

Last year, Rombis had 11 winners and finished in the top 20 in the meet trainer standings. Going into Tuesday's card, she had only two winners for all of 2006.

But Tuesday turned out to be a morale booster. Very early that morning, electrical power, knocked out during a surprise snowstorm Oct. 12 and 13, was restored on her farm and training center near Fort Erie. It had been down for more than four days. The storm prompted Fort Erie to cancel racing last Saturday and Sunday.

"We had two feet of snow," said Rombis. "Our farm got badly hit. Trees and lines were down all over. Our basement, where our office is, flooded with two feet of water. It was quite an ordeal."

Rombis's racing luck took a turn for the better on Tuesday when her first-time starter Una Tiara broke out on top and fought off challenges to win a $10,000 maiden claimer by 2

3/4 lengths.

Rombis trains and owns the 3-year-old filly in partnership with Rita Schnitzler, a former Woodbine-based trainer who is currently selling security fences.

"This was Rita's last horse," said Rombis.. "We took over training in May and finally got her to the races. She's been a little bit of a project; she's a head case. But she ran super and looked like a champion."

Una Tiara had been working fast. She paid $18.50.

Shoveling out

Herb McGirr Sr., the Fort's director of operations, described the track as a war zone following last week's snowstorm.

"We made an offer to pay people in the backstretch to come out to help in the cleanup," said McGirr. "Employees and horse people were unbelievable. In two days, three-quarters of the cleanup was done."

McGirr singled out jockey Jocko Lauzon for praise. "Jock was the heart and soul of the whole movement," said McGirr. "He was in the front-end bucket cutting down huge trees. He brought four of his family members down and four teenagers from his neighborhood."

Fort Erie lost 20 races due to storm.

"We won't get them all back," said McGirr. "But we'll try to make up [some of] the races in the last eight days."

The meet ends on Oct. 31.