07/21/2004 11:00PM

Rock's plans make progress

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EAST BOSTON, Mass. - A few details remain, but Rockingham Park continues to move forward with a plan to run three Thoroughbred turf races after its regularly scheduled harness racing card on Sept. 5.

The races would return flat racing to the Salem, N.H., track for the first time since the Rock switched to harness racing last year. The turf course there has gone unused after two decades of staging the area's most important grass races, including the New Hampshire Sweepstakes.

"We still have to apply for the license from the New Hampshire Racing Commission," said Rockingham's vice president and general manager Ed Callahan. "We have a wonderful turf course that's not being used. We want to see what type of response we get and look into the possibility of doing this again next year."

The license application is the biggest detail to be worked out, but it shouldn't be much of an obstacle because a law passed in April allows racetracks to hold licenses for more than one breed. It paves the way for the Rock to hold Thoroughbred races, Quarter Horse meets, and steeplechase events at the same time as its summer harness meet. Callahan said representatives from those other sports have already approached him about potential events next year.

Rockingham remains committed to harness racing and, according to Callahan, the Standardbred horsemen seem excited about the chance to join the two other breeds on the same program.

He also pointed out that he has not been dealing with the established Thoroughbred horsemen's group, the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Instead, it was a group of New Hampshire-based horsemen that approached Callahan about the turf races. The group said it would sanction any simulcasting agreements.

The acrimonious relationship between Rockingham and the HBPA is widely believed to be one reason the Rock switched to harness racing when its last contract ran out in 2002.

The HBPA would not comment, but a notice from it was posted this week in the Suffolk Downs racing office praising the possibility of the racing day and indicating there would not be any dispute and that there wasn't any rift in the group caused by the formation of the New Hampshire faction.

Dem convention not a problem

The Democratic National Convention is expected to cause traffic headaches for Bostonians, but Suffolk Downs will be open as usual Monday through Wednesday next week.

While security concerns will shut down major roadways during the convention at the Fleet Center, the Ted Williams Tunnel and the Mass. Pike will remain open, meaning fans coming to Suffolk from the south and west of the city won't encounter much disruption. Patrons north of the city will have plenty of company as Logan Airport commuters get detoured off I-93 on to the Revere Beach Parkway and Route 1A, but for the most part track goers won't have to depart from their normal routine.

After the convention, there will be more company in the Suffolk parking lot with Cirque de Soleil's "Varekai" show opening July 25 under a giant blue and yellow tent. Show parking will be $10. The circus handles all ticket sales through its web site and over the phone. The show runs through Sept. 5.