04/03/2004 1:00AM

Scace having another solid meet

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OLDSMAR Fla. - Trainer Lynn Scace cut her eyeteeth as a trainer in Rhode Island back in the rough-and-tumble days when female trainers were scarce and most people learned early on to keep their mouths shut and their eyes and ears open.

That is probably why she lets her horses do the talking. For the past several seasons, the Scace stable has quietly established itself as a perennial power at Tampa Bay Downs. With a mix of young horses and proven veterans, ranging from bottom-claiming types to allowance runners, the Scace operation annually ranks among the leaders at this meet in wins and purse earnings. Two years back, Scace, 53, ranked second in the overall standings to seven-time leading trainer Don Rice with 21 victories from 132 starts, a 16 percent winning rate. Last season the stable sent out 27 winners from 150 starters, an 18 percent rate.

This season, with an influx of new stables and an increase in purses, many of the locals who have trained here for years have struggled. But Scace currently ranks third with 19 wins, just three behind the leading trainer, Layne Gilforte, and two behind Ronnie Allen Sr. Scace's runners are hitting the winner's circle at a respectable rate of 17 percent.

Scace credits timing for much of her success.

"We try to give most of our stock some time off before this meeting begins," said Scace, a soft-spoken native of Pittsfield, Mass., who won her first race at now-defunct Narragansett Park.

"Then we try to place them where they can win or be competitive. It also helps that most of them seem to like the surface here."

Scace and fellow trainer Ray Stifano have been partners for many years, and the pair have owned Double-S Farm in Ocala since 1996. Many of the horses they own are Florida-breds and, like most owners and trainers this time of year, Scace and Stifano are cautiously optimistic regarding their young horses, if also slightly confused.

"It's still too early to tell just what we've got," said Scace. "They haven't done enough yet to sort anything out. Of course, you always hope there's a runner in the bunch. That's why this time of year is exciting."

Some of the Scace runners have gone to Indiana Downs with Stifano, but most will remain here until the meeting closes on May 2.

Tampa names stakes for Thomas

Nobody was more pumped up for Derby Day each year than the late sportscaster and talk-show host, Chris Thomas. That's why it seems fitting that Tampa Bay Downs will honor his memory by renaming the May 1 Columbia Stakes the Chris Thomas Turf Classic.

Thomas, who died Feb. 18 of cancer, was one of racing's biggest boosters in this area, first as a sports-

caster and later as sports director at television station WFLA in Tampa. He later hosted a morning sports-talk show that earned high ratings, and he also owned and managed a syndicate of runners, including the multiple stakes winner Super Fuse.

"Derby Day was always a big day for our family," said Thomas's wife, Kathryn, who is assistant news director at WFLA, "Chris would certainly consider this his arrival to the winner's circle."

The Thomas Turf Classic will be run at 1 1/8 miles with a purse of $60,000.