11/28/2003 12:00AM

Still looking to slots to provide relief


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Different meet, same burning issue. Turfway Park's president, Bob Elliston, is looking forward to hosting the next four months of live racing action on the Kentucky circuit, yet he is keenly aware that the issue of alternative gaming overshadows virtually everything that will transpire during that time.

More than any racetrack in Kentucky, Turfway has been adversely affected by the onslaught of riverboat casinos in Indiana. Tens of millions of gambling dollars have evaded Turfway by way of the boats, and Elliston has been among the industry leaders trying to forge a solution to this mammoth problem.

With the Nov. 4 election of a Republican, Ernie Fletcher, to the Kentucky governor's office, Elliston and other leaders are optimistic that some positive things may develop over the next few months.

"There are a lot of encouraging signs that it may be time for a constitutional amendment that would ultimately allow us to host slots at the track," said Elliston. "The state of Kentucky continues to have financial difficulties, and other racing jurisdictions, such as California, continue to progress toward getting slots. So we feel like the time is drawing near."

Meanwhile, business proceeds as usual at Turfway, where the track has assumed a profitable niche in the national simulcast market. "We feel like we have a very competitive product," said Elliston. "In terms of purses, we can't afford to give away what Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, or Oaklawn do, but we have a lot of fans who are drawn to our full fields."

Elliston said that track management was "extremely pleased" with how a new surface, installed in July, is working out. "There's been a lot of positive feedback from horsemen," he said.

Elliston believes the weeknight post time of 5:30 p.m. Eastern, which Turfway began employing several years ago, "slots us properly with the West Coast tracks. We also figure to improve our all-sources handle, maybe as much as 10 percent or more, because New York OTB is taking our entire cards now," as opposed to partial cards. "We're also making big gains in the Canadian markets. There's a lot of encouraging news here right now."

Turfway often is at the mercy of weather patterns. Last year the track canceled 16 full or partial cards. Elliston firmly believes the new racing surface will fare better against harsh weather. "But we'll see about that in January and February," he said.

Day sinus woes continue

Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day took off all mounts Friday at Churchill Downs, including Tenpins, the morning-line favorite in the $500,000 Clark Handicap. Day's agent, Doc Danner, said the jockey continues to be bothered by sinus problems.

Corey Lanerie rode Tenpins to a 12th-place finish.

It was the second straight program that Day took off all mounts. Day has a lengthy history of sinus problems and has undergone surgery at least once to correct them.

Friends said that Day and his wife, Sheila, were scheduled to host Thanksgiving dinner for about 25 people on Thursday, but that both were feeling so poorly that the dinner had to be canceled.

No repeat of DQ for Sir Cherokee

Minutes after Sir Cherokee - who last was seen winning the April 12 Arkansas Derby - ran superbly to win his comeback race Thursday at Churchill, his trainer, Mike Tomlinson, still had cause for concern. The runner-up in the one-mile allowance race, G P Fleet, had been impeded in midstretch, leading his jockey, Rafael Bejarano, and trainer, Steve Flint, to file an objection against Sir Cherokee.

Tomlinson had experienced something eerily similar last fall at Keeneland with Sir Cherokee: The colt had finished first in a maiden race but was disqualified for interference in midstretch.

But after close scrutiny, the stewards could not blame Sir Cherokee for the unfortunate trip that G P Fleet had. A tiring front-runner, Holy Burrito, had drifted into G P Fleet's path at the same time that Sir Cherokee was flying past, creating crowded conditions among the three horses. The original results were allowed to stand.

Understandably, Tomlinson was delighted with every aspect of the race. He said Sir Cherokee would remain stabled at the Trackside training center for several more weeks before leaving to run in either the Jan. 2 Louisiana Handicap at Fair Grounds or the Jan. 3 Hal's Hope at Gulfstream.

* Apprentice rider Pedro Velez suffered a severely sprained ankle and possible heel fracture when Spider Glide, his scheduled mount in the last race Thursday, fell on him in the paddock. Velez said the injuries would be reevaluated within a few days.

* Turfway has changed its scratch-time procedures so that as many as 14 horses will be carded per race, although only 12 can start. Also, program numbers are now being published as part of Daily Racing Form past performances.