06/12/2003 11:00PM

Restoration lineup in flux


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Monmouth Park got hit with another heavy rainstorm Thursday night into Friday morning. An additional inch of rain soaked the turf course, which has been inundated with more than nine inches of rain since the meet began May 24.

The uncertainty over the condition of the course had trainers in a quandary at entry time Friday morning for Sunday's $50,000 Restoration Stakes for 3-year-olds at one mile on grass.

Some entered hoping for a chance to finally run on turf. Others gambled that the race, like most of the scheduled grass races this meet, including one on Friday, would shift to the main track.

Count Barclay Tagg among those rooting for the race to remain on grass. Tagg, the trainer of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, wants to keep Hypnotist on turf.

Tagg entered the colt in both the Restoration and in a race at Belmont Park. He'll take whichever spot gives him grass.

"It looks like a good spot for him," Tagg said. "I think a mile is his best distance. Whichever race stays on the grass, that's where he'll go. I can't run him on dirt because he runs down too bad."

Hypnotist owns two career wins, both on turf - a maiden special weight race at Delaware Park and the Dave Feldman Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Ben Perkins Jr. falls into the opposing camp, the trainers hoping for a surface shift. He entered Max Forever with the main track in mind.

Max Forever made a brief appearance on the Triple Crown trail this spring. He won his maiden at Aqueduct March 1 and stepped right into the Gotham Stakes, the Big A's traditional prep for the Wood Memorial. He was beaten almost

14 lengths. The Gotham was run at one mile and 70 yards around two turns on Aqueduct's inner track.

"He had run a real good race in his maiden and won pretty easily," Perkins said. "Looking back, he probably wasn't up to that at that time."

Max Forever most recently scored a front-running allowance win at Monmouth over a "good" track.

"We think he's a nice colt," Perkins said of Max Forever, a son of Montbrook. "He's a big, good-looking, long-striding horse. We still think he's got some quality."

The race drew 14 entries but the complexion of the field won't be clear until the questions surrounding the surface are resolved.

Exercise rider does the job

Former jockey and current exercise rider Finley Bishop turned in one of the best displays of horsemanship Friday morning at Monmouth. Bishop took the unraced and rambunctious filly Vopo to the track for a gallop for trainers Vicki and Phil Oliver.

Vopo headed for the outside hedge and reared several times as she had done in the past. What came next was unexpected.

The filly dove through the hedge. Bishop, amazingly, managed to stay aboard and was able to turn her around and get back on track. She kicked and bucked but eventually settled down to work.

"I've been on a lot of bad horses in my life," Bishop said. "One's that have this kind of attitude usually turn out to be good ones."

- As if the persistent rain wasn't bad enough, Monmouth suffered another blow from Mother Nature when thick fog rolled in before Friday's seventh race. The low cloud cover obscured most of the track and the horses were not visible except during the final eighth of a mile.