07/21/2006 12:00AM

New turf course still a work in progress

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - The learning curve continues at Monmouth Park as management and the maintenance crew seek the right balance for the new turf course that debuted in June.

The weather was very hot last weekend, and course records fell as horses ran exceptionally fast.

"We do have a learning curve, in terms of how much water this course takes," said Bob Kulina, vice president and general manager. "Last week was pretty hot. The course got dry, and since then we've put a lot of water down. We're aerating it. It's a matter of figuring out the exact amount of moisture Mother Nature, and we, need to put down. In the summer, any turf course gets dry and hard."

Trainer Tim Hills agreed that course maintenance remains a work in progress.

"It's a very firm course, the way it is designed." Hills said. "I've walked it several times. The grass is lush, but the dirt underneath it is pretty firm.

"I hope as they go along that they will learn to maintain it better. It's not the design of the course, which is beautiful. It's a matter of learning what they can do and can't do."

The firmness of the course has created some stung hoofs.

"I would say there are some horses that are stinging from it," Hills said. "I have not run a lot of horses over it, to be fair. But I think the big, powerful horses that hit the ground hard are at a disadvantage."

Joe Orseno is one trainer very concerned about the course after Senor Swinger, a recent private purchase, ran fourth Saturday in the Elkwood Stakes in his Monmouth debut.

"This turf is too hard for him," Orseno said. "There's a horse that ran at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park and handled that fine. He comes here, and it's like a paved road.

"I'm not running another horse on the grass here, if I can avoid it. I would never run him here. He's too valuable to us."

While Orseno looks elsewhere for turf opportunities, racing secretary Mike Dempsey reports strong interest from horsemen ready to send their runners over Monmouth's renovated course.

"There is no shortage of horsemen looking to run on the course and requesting that we put up extra grass races," Dempsey said.

Two with turf experience lead Crank It Up

The $55,000 Crank It Up Stakes for 3-year-old filly turf sprinters drew a full field of 10 as the supporting feature for Sunday's $70,000 Skip Away. Seeknfind and Stolen Prayer could have an advantage as the only runners with prior grass experience.

Seeknfind, owned by Jayeff B Stables, has made all three of her starts in grass sprints, with a win and a third. Trainer Alan Goldberg will add blinkers to Seeknfind, a homebred daughter of Giant's Causeway.

Stolen Prayer shortens up after flashing speed before fading in Monmouth's Grade 3 Boiling Springs Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

The rest, including Sister Silver, get their first turf test.

"She's by Saint Ballado, so she's bred for turf," said trainer Ben Perkins Jr of Sister Silver. "She acts like she has a turf way about her."

Sister Silver is coming out of a Monmouth allowance race in which she wound up in a tight spot entering the turn and finished fourth.

"She ran pretty good the last time after she got stopped and had to drop back to swing around," Perkins said. "Everything went wrong and she got beat only 1 1/2 lengths."

* Trainer Peter Walder and jockey Jose Lezcano combined to win three races Friday. They swept the daily double with Size the Bet ($2.80) and Keep Crusing ($4.20) and followed with Kissin Wife ($3.60) in sixth.