12/21/2001 1:00AM

Pletcher barn ends 0-for-17 drought


NEW ORLEANS - Trainer Todd Pletcher finally broke through with a win here Thursday, when Getadderit scored by a length in a first-level turf allowance race. It was a long time coming. When Thursday's action ended, Pletcher's record at Fair Grounds was 18-1-5-0, but at least it included a win.

"Nobody likes to start off like that," said George Weaver, Pletcher's longtime assistant who is supervising the Fair Grounds string. "But you can't get all worked up about things and start second-guessing. You just have to stick with your plan."

Pletcher's stock ended up at Fair Grounds for the first time this season in great part because Hialeah Park, Pletcher's former winter base, closed its doors to training this year. Lacking sufficient stalls in south Florida, Pletcher split his horses this winter among Gulfstream, Aqueduct, and Fair Grounds - and said he had sent some talented horses to each location.

The Pletcher-trained horses that have delivered uninspiring performances at Fair Grounds have done so for different reasons. Some have had bad luck, some simply lack ability, and others were in need of a race over the track. "We have some who have run once who should be live next time out," Weaver said.

Pletcher's stock here is heavily populated with maidens, and a couple of those have run well, notably the 2-year-olds Mystic Salse and Don Juan. Mystic Salse is bred to be a turf horse but managed to finish second in his debut, which was rained off the grass. Don Juan was one of the more impressive maiden runners of the meet, finishing second in his debut after setting a wicked pace.

Field size isn't what it used to be

Field size at Fair Grounds, typically one of the track's most appealing points, has sagged this meet, but there are signs of improvement. The average number of entrants per race

last week was up by almost one horse per race over the worst five-day period of the meet. And the 109 horses entered for the Dec. 15 card was by far the meet's highest one-day total (excluding Louisiana Champions Day, which always attracts full fields) and far above the low point on Nov. 30, when only 70 horses were entered in 10 races.

"The last week or 10 days have been fine," said Mervin Muniz, Fair Grounds director of racing. "I think it's going to get better and better."

Muniz said entries picked up as Kentucky outfits shipping in after the Churchill meet got settled and started running. But Fair Grounds's lower-level claiming and Louisiana-bred races still are not filling like they used to. The pressure is coming from Delta Downs, which has boosted its purse structure and is likely to begin offering even higher purses after its slot-machine casino opens. Many horsemen based in central Louisiana are shipping runners west to Delta, and its easier competition, rather than to Fair Grounds as in years past.

"We may have to start splitting some of the better races," Muniz said, referring to the practice of dividing a single group of entries into two races. Muniz also said he is carding more grass races, which are easier to fill than dirt races.

o Trainer Tom Amoss, who led the trainer standings here entering this week, received a $1,000 fine from the Fair Grounds stewards after Flick, winner of the Pontalba Stakes on Nov. 25, tested positive for the therapeutic drug flunixin. Flunixin is a commonly used anti-inflammatory medication that goes under the trade name Banamine. In Louisiana, it is not permitted on race day.