04/14/2002 11:00PM

Quality allowance goes as feature


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The closing of Hialeah Park and the extension of the 2002 Gulfstream Park meet through April 24 has certainly had both positive and negative effects on the local industry this season. Perhaps the biggest plus is the fact that south Florida horsemen are still racing for nearly twice as much money daily as they would during Hialeah's traditional spring meeting.

At this time last year, a race such as Wednesday's allowance feature could never have drawn the caliber of field that has been assembled - without the incentive of a $46,000 purse. The group includes Grade 1- placed Stokosky, multiple Grade 3 winner American Halo, and stakes winners T V Sports Director, Sejm's Madness, Wertz, and Punkin Head.

"If Hialeah had been running now, the same race would have been written for half the purse," said veteran trainer Joe Calascibetta, who will send out Wertz in Wednesday's feature.

"And who knows how many of these horses would have been in the race or even on the grounds right now," he added. "With the kind of money being given away in other places at this time of year there is tremendous competition for horseflesh, and the attrition rate has gotten greater and greater down here."

Calascibetta has had considerable success with Wertz the last few years, but saw the him leave his barn for several months last fall in search of greener and richer pastures. But since Wertz's return to south Florida this winter, he has won two races in a row and will be one of the favorites Wednesday, despite the quality of the competition he will face.

"He really seems to love the Gulfstream turf course, which has good firm footing," said Calascibetta. "He likes Calder too. I think the problem he had in Louisiana was the Fair Grounds turf course was too sticky for his liking. He's also at his best with a clear lead, and while I don't like to reveal my strategy beforehand, I think this horse kind of tips his mitt when he hits the entries."

Calascibetta is having an outstanding meet, winning with 10 of his 62 starters.

"It's really been a terrific meet for me," he said. "The purses have been nice, and our stable has held its own against some good horses from all around the country this winter."

Among the good horses Calascibetta and Wertz must deal with Wednesday is Stokosky, a Grade 3 winner who finished third, beaten less than a length, in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap here in 2001. He was purchased privately by owner Gary Tanaka and sent to trainer Bill Mott after that race, and turned in his best race of his current form cycle on Feb. 21, beating a graded stakes-caliber allowance field that included Whata Brainstorm and Honor Glide.

Velasquez likely to ride

Jockey Cornelio Velasquez, who is named on Sejm's Madness in Wednesday's feature, is expected to ride, despite taking a nasty spill when his mount Kipperscope broke down suddenly during the running of Saturday's Yankee Affair Stakes. Velasquez was taken to Hollywood Memorial Hospital following the incident but fortunately escaped without serious injury.

"He probably could have ridden Sunday, but his foot was a little sore so we figured it would be best for him to take the day off," said Velasquez's agent, Gil Graell. "With Monday and Tuesday dark that gives him three days off, and he should be ready to go without any problem on Wednesday."

Ortiz suspended for careless riding

A less fortunate rider is Chris Decarlo, who remains sidelined after suffering a broken vertebrae in his lower back when thrown from his mount La Sprezzatura during the running of last Wednesday's finale.

The incident occurred on the clubhouse turn, when La Sprezzatura was bumped by April Beauty, appeared to lose her footing, and struck the inner rail. Jockey Sasha Ortiz, who rode April Beauty, has been suspended 10 days by the stewards for careless riding.

Lavoy winning at high percentage

Jockey Rachel Lavoy quietly continues to have a big meet. She rode Printer's Princess and Notable Craft to back-to-back victories Sunday, and has now ridden 11 winners from 52 mounts at the meeting. Her 21 per cent win ratio ranks among the highest among jockeys here this meet.

Lavoy rode Printer's Princess for her main client, John Forbes, while her victory on Notable Craft gave trainer Kathy Mongeon her first win of the meet.