01/09/2006 1:00AM

Penn halts week's racing


Penn National Racecourse has canceled all four of its live racing cards this week in order to assess the track's racing surface in the light of continuing complaints from riders that the track's racing surface is unsafe.

The cancellations, from Wednesday through Saturday, were announced Monday after a contentious weekend between Penn National's management and the track's riding colony. The jockeys refused to ride last Friday, then rode two races Saturday night before leaving the track for the remainder of the races.

Penn National's management accused the riders of failing to notify track officials before leaving on Saturday.

"What happened here last Saturday night is not acceptable," said Penn National's general manager, Gary Luderitz.

Efforts to reach riders at Penn National were unsuccessful Monday afternoon. A jockey who rode frequently at the track in 2005 who requested anonymity said that many jockeys are convinced Penn National needs to overhaul the course completely.

"The track is really uneven," the jockey said. "They patch one hole and then another one comes up. They always want to blame the jockeys, but it's our safety out there."

Late last year, Penn National renovated a portion of its dirt course at the head of the stretch in order to address the riders' complaints. In a release Monday, track officials said they have asked their former track superintendent, Jay Fortney, who is now a consultant at Charles Town Races and Slots in West Virginia, to survey the track this week with Penn's existing maintenance staff "to identify, and then if necessary, fix, other areas on the racetrack."

Relations between the track and its jockey colony began to sour in the fall last year after jockeys refused to ride on two consecutive cards in September, first because of concerns over the condition of the track and then over the number of assistant starters employed by the track.