08/18/2004 11:00PM

Rock, horsemen close to agreement


EAST BOSTON, Mass. - The sides haggling over three proposed turf races at Rockingham Park over Labor Day weekend are close to reaching an agreement, according to officials at the Salem, N.H., track.

Rockingham wants to card three grass flat races at the end of its scheduled harness racing program on Sunday, Sept. 5, in a move to bring Thoroughbred racing back to the track for the first time in almost two years. The Rock switched to harness racing when it could not reach a contract with the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association following the 2002 season.

Thanks to legislation passed earlier this year, New Hampshire tracks can hold programs for more than one breed at the same time. Rockingham looked to take advantage of the new law and use its dormant turf course, but getting the region's horsemen to sanction the races has been difficult.

A group called the New Hampshire Thoroughbred Breeding and Racing Association approached the Rock about sanctioning the program. That rankled the New England HBPA, which claims it alone represents the region's horsemen.

With backing from the National HBPA, the New England chapter is close to a compromise.

Previously, the HBPA called the New Hampshire group a "puppet organization" because Rockingham's stall manager, Mike Sherr, is the president.

Ed Callahan, Rockingham's general manager, said he's speaking with both groups.

"We're trying to work with the HBPA and the other group to come to some kind of agreement," said Callahan. "There's still a couple sticking points, but we've all been talking and we still want to get this done."

Jini's Jet renews rivalry on turf

Jini's Jet on Saturday again faces the high-powered brother-sister team of Stylish Sultan and Sunlit Ridge in the $40,000 Thomas Moran Stakes for Massachusetts-breds at Suffolk Downs. The Moran is a 1 1/16-mile turf race.

Jini's Jet won the Last Dance Stakes in the slop July 5 decisively over Stylish Sultan to move within $2,000 of Stylish Sultan's career earnings. Jini's Jet has 14 wins from 38 starts, Stylish Sultan has 13 wins from 24 tries, and Sunlit Ridge is 15 for 59, with more money than both the boys.

On grass, Sunlit Ridge is the undisputed queen, with 11 victories, including seven over the Suffolk course. Her brother, Stylish Sultan, is 1 for 1 on the turf. Jini's Jet is 0 for 6 but has finished second or third five times.

Five other runners will be in the race, but don't have the credentials of the top three. The brother-sister combo will be coupled in the win-wagering-only event since both are owned by Manny Roos.

The Moran will be the last grass race for about 10 days as Suffolk officials want to give the course a break.