06/17/2003 11:00PM

Rain has turf racing hurting


ELMONT, N.Y. - And you thought the winter was bad.

After a cold, snowy winter, the weather has not gotten any better this spring in New York, which has negatively affected the current Belmont meeting. Since the meet opened on May 7, Belmont has absorbed 14.45 inches of rain, including another 1.10 inches that fell Wednesday.

Belmont has been able to conduct only 42 turf races through the first 32 days of the meet, compared with 89 turf races during the same period last spring. A total of 41 races have been taken off the turf (including four on Wednesday and two on Thursday) and countless others were never written because of the wet conditions. There is one turf race scheduled for Friday, but the forecast isn't promising.

The main track has been labeled fast for an entire card only 15 of the first 32 days of the 55-day meet. Last year, the main track was fast on 26 of the first 32 days.

Naturally, business has been hurt, though surprisingly not too severely. Through Sunday, the total handle on Belmont's races was down only 2.7 percent while ontrack handle declined 6.7 percent. Amazingly, attendance is up 2.7 percent, buoyed by a crowd of 23,108 that showed up on June 6, the day before the Belmont Stakes. When factoring in the handle of out-of-town races offered at Belmont, total handle and ontrack handle are down only 1.7 percent.

"Certainly, large fields create better racing, and turf racing creates larger fields," said Mike Lakow, the New York Racing Association's racing secretary. "It's frustrating for the horsemen. It's thrown a lot of people off schedule."

Trainer John Kimmel says he has 13 horses he has been unable to run because of the lack of turf.

Said trainer Christophe Clement, "It's been very difficult to train the last three, four, or five weeks. If you can run somewhere, you've got to ship."

Lakow said when there's a break in the weather, he would like to card as many as six races a day on the turf.

Jerry Porcelli, the track superintendent, said there are spots on the turf course that are worse than others.

"I'll find places where there's water laying on top of the ground, and it doesn't matter if there are zero days left in the meet, you couldn't let them run over it," Porcelli said. "Soft is one thing, but at this point it's just too wet."

A heavier, healthier Migliore

Richard Migliore is heavier, healthier, and riding as well as ever in his 22-year career. And people are taking notice.

Not only was Migliore tabbed to participate in his first All-Star Jockey Championship on Friday night at Lone Star Park, but when he returns to Belmont Saturday, he will be climbing aboard Mandy's Gold in the Grade 1, $300,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap.

Migliore won two stakes over the weekend and has a NYRA-circuit leading nine for the year. Through Wednesday, he had 23 winners from 109 mounts, good for fifth in the Belmont jockey standings. For the year, Migliore is 89 for 422 with purse earnings of $3.5 million in New York.

Migliore, 39, attributes his success this year to a modified diet and an elevated confidence level. Migliore has allowed himself to increase his daily caloric intake to 1,200 and is comfortable riding at 115 pounds, one to two pounds heavier than last year.

"More than anything else, my confidence level is in a very good place," Migliore said between races Wednesday. "I have modified a few things with myself physically. My diet's a little bit different. I've been tacking 115 for the most part, which is a little bit heavier, but I feel a lot better. My thinking is so much clearer because of that.

"I was trying to do 113 in the summers and 114 in the winters, but this winter I was fooling around with a few things trying to make myself feel a little bit better, and now I decided to stick with the regimen I've fallen into because I feel so good. If it means I'm a little bit heavier, it's a small sacrifice if I ride better."

Last Saturday, Migliore guided Iron Deputy to victory in the Brooklyn and Savedbythelight in Sunday's Sands Point. Both horses were the longest shots in their races.

Mandy's Gold figures to be third choice behind Take Charge Lady and Sightseek in the Phipps, which is also expected to attract Smok'n Frolic and possibly Lady Liberty.

"When I heard she might need a rider, I picked up the phone myself," Migliore said. "I thought I'd be a good fit. I'm nothing if not tenacious, and that's what she seems to be like. I'm happy to have the opportunity to ride her."

Migliore won this race - known as the Hempstead Handicap until last year - in 1997 with Hidden Lake.

Storm Flag Flying out; Yell in

Trainer Shug McGaughey had purposely brought his 2-year-old champion filly Storm Flag Flying back to the races slowly, hoping to have a fresh horse for New York's revamped Triple Tiara series. But after two disappointing efforts to begin her 3-year-old season, Storm Flag Flying was not even nominated to the Grade 1 Mother Goose, which kicks off the triple crown for fillies on June 28.

Instead, McGaughey will send out Yell in the Mother Goose. The series includes the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 19 and the Alabama on Aug. 16. A $2 million bonus will be awarded to the connections of any horse who wins all three races.

After finishing second in the Comely, Storm Flag Flying finished a distant sixth in the Acorn. She came out of that race with filling in a pastern, which has not subsided.

"We've X-rayed it and ultra-sounded it and we have no idea what it is," McGaughey said. "I can't gallop her."

McGaughey said he hopes to have Storm Flag Flying ready for the Saratoga meet.

Meanwhile, Yell is coming out of a third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks, a race in which she encountered traffic trouble in the first turn and again in the stretch.

Jockey John Velazquez, said McGaughey, "was surprised she ran as well as she did. If she had gotten a clean trip who knows what would have happened."

Others pointing to the Mother Goose are Final Round, Rhumb Line, Roar Emotion, Spoken Fur, and possibly Awesome Humor, Country Romance, and Virgin Voyage.

* When Kathir finished second in Wednesday's second race, it ended a streak of five consecutive winners sent out by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin dating to June 8. Through Wednesday, McLaughlin is 11 for 20 at the meet. Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. entered Thursday's card having saddled five consecutive winners and six of seven since June 12. Trainer Todd Pletcher went 3 for 3 on Wednesday's card. Combined with his victory in Sunday's finale, Pletcher has won with his last four runners.