09/20/2007 11:00PM

NYRA tries to keep tracks soft

EmailELMONT, N.Y - In response to numerous complaints from horsemen that the New York Racing Association tracks have been too hard, management has agreed to tweak the way it maintains its dirt surfaces.

Specifically, the dirt tracks at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga will not be rolled, or packed down, as consistently as they have been, especially when there is no inclement weather forecast. According to John Passero, NYRA's director of racing surfaces, the track will still be sealed following each racing day, but will not be rolled unless there is greater than a 30 percent chance of rain in the forecast.

The practice of rolling a track helps keep some moisture in the surface, but just as importantly keeps any rain from penetrating the track. Horsemen have been complaining for months, however, that it is unnecessary to roll the track when there is no rain imminent.

Horsemen first expressed their concerns to NYRA president Charlie Hayward during an Aug. 31 meeting at Saratoga. Another meeting was held on Friday at Belmont Park, during which approximately 20 trainers, three jockeys, and one veterinarian met with Hayward, executive vice president Hal Handel, Passero, and racing secretary P.J. Campo. The 75-minute meeting was closed to the media.

"Some of us felt the track was a little hard and it was beating up on the horses,'' trainer Phil Serpe said after the meeting. "We met with Charlie before we left Saratoga; he promised us he would resolve the problem. We just had a great meeting upstairs; we think the problem is going to be resolved. It's not that big a deal.

"John Passero has a program he set up on what he does with the track. The only thing is John's not training horses, we are. They just needed to make an adjustment. Hopefully, we made the adjustment we need and we'll have to see what happens.''

Said Hayward: "What we're doing now is putting a little more risk that if we get caught with rain we're going to be in a tougher spot on race day. But the benefit is, at least in the mind of trainers, the track is going to be better for horses training in the morning.''

Most of the trainers interviewed afterward called the meeting productive.

"I think we all have the same goal in mind and that's to have the safest possible track for horses, horsemen, jockeys, and everything else,'' trainer Todd Pletcher said. "It was a positive meeting and I think we're trying to do some things, like always, to improve the safety.''

Through the first 11 days, or one-third, of the meet, four horses have died and another, Tiz Wonderful, was vanned off with a career-ending injury. Additionally, Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches and the Grade 2 stakes winner Makderah sustained fractured pasterns.

Barancella returns in Fairway Flyer

Barancella, unraced since finishing second in the Grade 2 Bewitch Stakes at Keeneland, is slated to return in Sunday's $75,000 Fairway Flyer Stakes at 1 3/8 miles. The field came up pretty strong with Wingspan and Jade Queen among the six entrants.

Barancella, a 6-year-old French-bred, has yet to win a stakes but she has finished second or third in six graded events.

Trainer Bobby Frankel said Barancella has had her share of physical issues, most recently being plagued by foot problems. She missed the New York Handicap here in July when she injured her frog, the bottom part of a horse's foot that acts like a shock absorber. Frankel had considered running in a race toward the end of the Saratoga meet, but didn't like the condition of the turf course.

Barancella has been in pretty steady training for the last six weeks, with several stamina-building workouts on turf and dirt.

"Right now she's good,'' Frankel said. "I think she's fit. She's been in pretty steady training. I was going to run at Saratoga, but that track was chewed up up there. At least the turf is in decent shape here.''

Wingspan will try to bounce back from a third-place finish in a second-level allowance race going 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga on Aug. 22. In her North American debut, Wingspan won a first-level allowance race here on June 23 at 1o1/4 miles.

"She's doing real well, she should appreciate stretching out to a mile and three-eighths,'' said Pletcher, her trainer. "I think the mile and an eighth in the allowance last time was a little short for her.''

Pletcher will also send out Jade Queen, who finished a close third in both the Garden City Breeders' Cup and Flower Bowl over this course last year.

Diamond Stripes to Meadowlands Cup

Diamond Stripes, winner of last year's Pegasus Handicap at the Meadowlands, will return to New Jersey for the Grade 2, $500,000 Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 5, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said Friday.

After winning his first four starts, Diamond Stripes has finished third in three consecutive Grade 1 races, the Stephen Foster, Whitney, and Woodward.

On Sept. 13, Dutrow worked Diamond Stripes on the turf but he went five furlongs in a pokey 1:05.39. On Wednesday, Diamond Stripes worked five furlongs over Aqueduct's main track in 1:01.03.

"I tried to breeze him on the grass and he didn't like it at all,'' Dutrow said. "He's on his game, he's doing good.''

Dutrow said if Diamond Stripes were to run well in the Meadowlands Cup, he would consider attempting the Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park three weeks later.

* High Finance, the Tom Fool Handicap winner who finished eighth of 10 in the Forego on Sept. 1, worked five furlongs in 1:00.31 at Aqueduct on Friday. Trainer Rick Violette said he has not picked out a next spot for High Finance, but that if he opted to run in a Breeders' Cup race it would more likely be the $1 million Dirt Mile on Oct. 26 rather than the $2 million Sprint on Oct. 27.

* Sun King, runner-up to Lawyer Ron in the Woodward on Sept. 1, worked four furlongs in 47.23 seconds over Saratoga's Oklahoma training track on Friday. Trainer Nick Zito said he has not ruled out running Sun King in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 30.