03/04/2002 1:00AM

Storm cancels Midwest racing

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A powerful winter storm accompanied by freezing temperatures swept across the Midwest over the weekend, forcing a handful of tracks to close their doors.

The storm hit Chicago especially hard. On Sportsman's Park's opening weekend, racing had to be canceled on just the second day of the meet after heavy rain and snow played a part in a spill that left one horse dead. South of Chicago, Turfway Park in northern Kentucky, Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Blue Ribbon Downs in Oklahoma, and Fonner Park in Nebraska also canceled live racing as the strong storm worked its way east.

Despite freezing temperatures, Sportsman's was able to complete its opening-day card Friday but canceled its last three races Saturday after Handsome Red broke down and fell leaving the eighth pole of the sixth race, throwing jockey Eusebio Razo Jr. to the track. Handsome Red was euthanized, but Razo escaped unharmed.

According to Joe Kasperski, the president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, jockeys at Sportsman's had asked the track superintendent to float the track after the fifth race, citing the heavy precipitation, which alternated between freezing rain and snow all day. Charles Bidwill III, the track's president, said the card was delayed approximately 20 minutes as the track superintendent's crew tried to squeeze the water out of the track.

Just as the work was being finished, the snowfall intensified, Kasperski said, especially as horses began arriving for the sixth-race post parade.

"The snow started packing on the racetrack, and I think it may have gotten balled up in some of the horses' feet," Kasperski said. "I didn't think that was the best thing to do, to seal the track."

After the sixth-race spill, jockeys voted unanimously to cancel the day's racing, Kasperski and Bidwill said, an action that was supported by the horsemen and the track.

Sportsman's also canceled its Sunday and Monday cards because of cold temperatures. The track plans to run again on Tuesday.

Fonner Park was forced to cancel Friday, Saturday, and Sunday because of the storm. The track has not lost a full weekend of live racing in recent memory. Live racing is expected to return on March 8.

At Turfway, the Sunday card was canceled because of the storm, but racing was expected to resume on Wednesday night.

Oaklawn Park also canceled its 10-race program Sunday, marking the second time this meet that freezing temperatures have forced the track to call off racing. A nine-race card was canceled Feb. 6.

Blue Ribbon Downs canceled racing on Saturday and Sunday.