03/23/2005 1:00AM

New season features full-time track super


COLLINSVILLE, Ill. - Fairmount Park's general manager, Brian Zander, and its racing director, Bobby Pace, are enthusiastic about a handful of improvements in the southern Illinois track's 2005 meet, which begins Friday evening with a 10-race slate of sprints.

At the behest of horsemen who have, for years, complained about the one-mile oval's less-than-ideal racing surface, Zander has hired the track's first full-time superintendent in recent memory, Gale Franklin. Previously, Franklin tended to the surface for the World Trotting Derby in his hometown of DuQuoin, Ill. He takes over primary responsibility for Fairmount's grounds from Frank Killian, who will maintain his duties as plant manager for the facility.

"He's got the track in pretty good shape," said Fairmount's perennial top trainer, Ralph Martinez. "It's a little hard sometimes, but it seems like it's all level. The problem before was it was so deep and they couldn't keep enough water on it. Frank just had too many things to do."

While Fairmount's attendance was up nearly 10 percent last year, its ontrack handle fell by 6 percent. To combat this trend - which Zander attributes to the increased popularity of Television Games Network and Internet parimutuel wagering - construction of a covered pavilion has begun on the clubhouse apron. This area will eventually feature ceiling fans and outdoor television sets, commodities previously foreign to the hardscrabble venue.

"People like to be outside, close to the horses," said Zander.

Also expected to enhance ontrack handle is locally based Circle C Stables' unprecedented agreement to put up $105,000 in purse money for four stakes races on Saturday, Aug. 6, including the $50,000 Circle C Stakes for 4-year-olds and up.

"It's the first time it's happened here," said Pace of Circle C's sponsorship. "Their ownership is local and wants Fairmount to make a go of it."

Friday's opening-night card is highlighted by the two-furlong Inaugural Dash, which could boil down to a three-way showdown of 10-year-old geldings: Tic 'n Tin (5-2 on the track's morning line), Glit (3-1), and Sammy the Champ (4-1).

Foremost among this trio is Tic 'n Tin, who has earned $760,840. Trained by Ron Brandenburg, Tic 'n Tin has never run in a sprint this short in his 92-race career. That appears to leave room for the Martinez-trained Glit to score a slight upset in what owner Lou O'Brien says might be the gelding's farewell race.

"If he wins," said O'Brien, "we retire him."

Leading jockey Ramsey Zimmerman will be aboard