11/26/2004 12:00AM

Surface to receive stiff test

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Hunker down, burrow in, or do whatever it is you do when a long winter is coming. Turfway Park kicks off four months-plus of racing Sunday, and, if nothing else, racing fans should bring their overcoats, ski masks, and plenty of wagering capital to stay in action.

Technically, Turfway divides its winter into two segments: the holiday meet, which runs to Dec. 31, and the winter-spring meet, which runs Jan. 1 through April 8. But except for maybe government regulators, no one notices a difference, and so the winter becomes one huge dose of Turfway.

Turfway president Bob Elliston said the excitement quotient is high whenever a new meet approaches at the track, which is located in Florence, Ky.

"We're looking forward to it for a lot of reasons," said Elliston. "We think the new track surface we put down in July is the best we've ever had here, and we've got some new horsemen coming, along with our loyal regulars. And if entries from opening day are any indication, we should have no problem offering our fans a steady diet of full fields."

The new surface was not tested during the fall meet in September as it surely will be during the winter. Elliston said his staff is confident the number of cancellations that tend to occur during the winter will be reduced because the surface "sheds water like we hoped it would. The crew is able to work with it much better. They can seal it, press it, and the moisture cascades right off. "

New faces include Jerry Hollendorfer, who is expected with a full load by mid-December, and national wins leader Steve Asmussen, who said he expects to run frequently through the holiday meet before shipping elsewhere.

The opening-day feature is a $25,400 one-mile allowance, which drew a field of 10. Overall, the 10-race card drew 113 entries, including also-eligibles. The first stakes comes next Saturday with the $50,000 Holiday Inaugural.

Elliston said he does not expect any problems from jockeys who held an unofficial work stoppage at the Churchill Downs meet. Elliston said he or his staff already has spoken with at least three of the jockeys who were banned for the last three weeks at Churchill - Willie Martinez, Dean Butler, and Jesus Castanon - and "they said it was their intention to ride without incident."

At a glance:

* RACING SCHEDULE: Sunday through April 8; dark Mondays, Tuesdays, Dec. 24-25; open Dec. 27-28

* POST TIME: Weeknights, 5:30 p.m. Eastern; weekends and Dec. 26-31, 1:10 p.m.

* ADMISSIONS: Free

* PARKING: General, free; valet, $3

* HIGHLIGHTS: Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End Spiral Stakes, March 26; four $50,000 stakes at holiday meet, starting with Dec. 4 Holiday Inaugural

* PURSES: About $140,000 per day

* LOCATION: Just off Interstate 71/75 in Florence, Ky., at Turfway Rd. exit

* PHONE: (859) 371-0200 or (800) 733-0200

* INTERNET: www.turfway.com