05/24/2007 12:00AM

Park Avenue Ball takes first step on turf


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Grass racing makes its season debut Saturday at Monmouth Park with Park Avenue Ball, one of the leading horses here last summer, trying turf for the first time in the $60,000 Elkwood Stakes.

A 5-year-old New Jersey-bred, Park Avenue Ball made four Monmouth starts in 2006, all stakes, and posted three wins. His finest moments were a second to Grade 1 winner Flower Alley in the Salvator Mile and a victory in the Grade 3 Iselin Handicap.

Charlie Hesse, who bred the horse in partnership with his wife, Marianne, died last fall without seeing Park Avenue Ball ever set foot on grass.

"Charlie had expressed a desire to try him on the turf and Marianne asked about it, so we decided that doing it now would be the best time," said trainer Jim Ryerson. "I don't know where it will lead."

Down the road, it could lead to an interesting decision with Monmouth hosting the Breeders' Cup in October. Should Park Avenue Ball point to the new one-mile dirt race (actually one mile and 70 yards because of Monmouth's configuration) or the Mile on the turf?

The more immediate goal is a return shot in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile on dirt on June 23.

"Once we get these two races in him, we'll decide where we're going to prep and where we're going to run in the fall," Ryerson said.

Right now, Ryerson is leaning against running back in the Iselin, Monmouth's top dirt event for older horses on Aug. 18.

For Park Avenue Ball, the grass will be a completely new experience. He has never worked or galloped on grass.

"We'll find out how well he likes it," Ryerson said. "It will either open another door or close a door."

The one-mile Elkwood won't be an easy spot with the Chilean-bred Host in the field. The winner of the 2005 Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, Host makes his first start since running 12th in the Dubai Sheema Classic in March. Chris DeCarlo, normally Park Avenue Ball's rider, will be aboard Host for trainer Todd Pletcher. Eddie Castro picks up the mount on Park Avenue Ball.

Classic Campaign and Interpatation were cross-entered in the Elkwood and an optional claiming race Friday at Belmont Park.

The Richard Dutrow Jr.-trained duo of Bailero and Indian War Dance were entered for the main track only.

Who's the Cowboy should be set for best

Who's the Cowboy looms a solid favorite in the $60,000 John J. Reilly Handicap for New Jersey-breds, the second stakes on the Saturday card.

The winner of four Monmouth stakes last summer, Who's the Cowboy carries top weight of 124 pounds, conceding at least seven pounds to each of his four rivals in the six-furlong race.

The 5-year-old Who's the Cowboy makes his second start of the season, having run third on opening day behind Joey P., who set the track record in the 5 1/2-furlong Decathlon Stakes.

Who's the Cowboy has a history of needing one comeback race before hitting his best stride. The added sixteenth of a mile also helps the rallying sprinter, who is 10 for 21 at the distance.

"The two weeks coming back is all right," said trainer Kevin Sleeter. "He's always needed that one race, except for his very first race."

Forbes changing his role

John Forbes calls it "rebranding."

Forbes, a five-time leading trainer at Monmouth and the all-time leader at the Meadowlands, has removed his name from the program.

The horses are now listed with Pat McBurney, Forbes's assistant for the last 32 years.

"It's a recognition of Pat's contribution and case of giving credit where credit is due," Forbes said.

It also marks a reorganization of the stable, devastated by last fall's outbreak of equine herpesvirus at Monmouth. Half of Forbes's 25 horses showed symptoms at some point. His stable remained under Department of Agriculture quarantine until Jan. 3, long after training at Monmouth ended on Dec. 1. For more than a month, horses could only walk under tack beneath the shed row.

McBurney, as always, will supervise the stable on a daily basis. Forbes will assist with the training but will spend increasing time scouting acquisitions at public sales, through private purchases, and at the claiming box.

"The toughest part of this business right now is finding horses and purchasing them at a reasonable price," Forbes said. "The prices of horses have gotten totally inflated. They are hard to find at the right price."

* Apprentice Mario Madrid has returned to Monmouth. He finished seventh in the standings here last summer with 42 wins from 409 mounts. Madrid retains the five-pound bug until Sept. 13.

* Betty Anderson, 81, died Wednesday in Florida. She operated the Frenchman's Kitchen on the Monmouth backstretch for more than 30 years.

* ReRun will hold a fund-raising "Day at the Races" at Monmouth on June 23. The organization, which finds adoptive homes for retired runners, currently cares for 50 horses awaiting placement. Tickets are available by calling (215) 272-6716.