07/09/2001 11:00PM

Skiffington's turf stars set to fire

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Tom Skiffington admits business was slow for the past five years. Early in the 1990's, Skiffington had 60 to 70 runners in his barn. In recent years, that number dwindled to 10 or so.

"I tell everyone, I haven't forgot how to train a horse," said Skiffington, who expertly managed the careers of several talented stakes-winning grass fillies, including Maxzene, Anka Germania, Anguilla, and Fieldy.

Things have picked up around the Skiffington barn this year. Skiffington, a former champion steeplechase rider, has attracted new owners and has 20 horses for a half-dozen clients at his Belmont Park barn, and is expecting more before the summer is over.

Two of the stable stars are being pointed to grass stakes at Belmont Park this weekend. Spook Express, a former South African champion and a winner of two stakes this year for Skiffington, runs in Saturday's $250,000 New York Handicap at 1 1/4 miles for fillies and mares.

Spook Express will be making her first start since finishing third in the Black Helen on April 14.

"It's a gamble, but every time I run her fresh, she wins," said Skiffington, who won the New York in 1997 with Maxzene and 10 years earlier with Anka Germania.

The promising Package Store, who was narrowly defeated by Proud Man in his stakes debut in the Hill Prince last month, starts in Sunday's $150,000 Lexington, a Grade 3 for 3-year-olds.

Package Store worked a half-mile over Belmont's training track Tuesday in 48.49 seconds, breezing.

Reduit, who was sent to Skiffington this week from Europe, could join Package Store. Reduit was scheduled to clear quarantine Tuesday, but the flight he was on from England had to turn back when someone on board had a heart attack. Reduit was placed on another flight, which arrived in New York late Monday, and is expected to pass quarantine Thursday.

Skiffington said he would run Reduit, who placed in a Group 1 in France last year, only if the trip didn't take too much out of the colt.

"Reduit would have been one of the four or five top horses in the French Derby if he ran, but he bled in a workout before and the owners decided to send him over here," Skiffington said.

Skiffington said this year for the first time in his career - first as a jump rider and now as a trainer - he won't be going to Saratoga because he was allotted only eight stalls.

"I don't want to split up the horses," he said.

Spook Express, who was assigned 116 pounds in the Grade 2 New York, could be joined by highweight Colstar (121 pounds), who also was entered in Saturday's $150,000 All Along at Colonial Downs. Gaviola (119), Melody Queen (113), and Playact (114) are expected New York starters.

Silver Tornado headed to Lake George

Trainer Linda Rice said that Silver Tornado, who is now 4 for 4 after winning last weekend's Grade 3 Reeve Schley Jr. at Monmouth Park, will run next in the $100,000-added Lake George, a Grade 3 grass race at Saratoga on July 30.

Silver Tornado, a 3-year-old half-sister to Grade 1 winner El Corredor, won three dirt starts before making her grass, stakes, and two-turn debut in the Schley.

"I was debating whether to keep her on the dirt sprinting, but the 3-year-old filly division is so strong," Rice said. "In the back of mind, I thought she would like the grass."

Another Rice stakes winner, Talk's Cheap, is back in training after spending time on the farm to recuperate from a respiratory virus. The 5-year-old worked three furlongs at Belmont Tuesday in 37.26 seconds, breezing.

Rice said Talk's Cheap, who hasn't raced since finishing seventh in the Stymie March 10, will be ready to run by the end of Saratoga.

* Volponi, under jockey Kenny Skinner, worked Tuesday over Belmont's main track for Sunday's 1 1/4-mile Lexington. Fourth in the Hill Prince, Volponi worked five furlongs in 1:00.25, handily, and was out six furlongs in 1:12.90.