05/16/2006 11:00PM

Track asks to drop nine days of racing

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - With an eye toward expediting the installation of a new Polytrack surface this summer, Woodbine has officially applied to the Ontario Racing Commission to drop nine days from the meet's schedule.

The replacement of the current one-mile dirt surface with Polytrack is set to begin on Tuesday, July 4.

Thursday already was dark that week, due to the July 3 Monday holiday program.

At the beginning of the meeting, Woodbine had announced its intentions of dropping the Wednesday, July 3, and Friday, July 5, programs.

The break would allow for the cushion on the main track to be moved to the seven-furlong Standardbred oval, on which the Thoroughbreds will race while Polytrack is being installed.

Woodbine also is seeking to drop Thursday racing on July 13, 20, and 27 - and on Aug. 3, 17, 24, and 31. Thursday, Aug. 10, follows a holiday Monday and is a scheduled dark day.

"We felt sacrificing nine days in order to move up construction of our new track by a couple of weeks was worthwhile," said Jim Ormiston, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Woodbine Entertainment Group.

Nick Coukos, executive director of the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said his group supports Woodbine's summer dates amendments.

"It gives them the extra day to work on the track," said Coukos, "and helps with the scheduling of getting it done on time.

"Also, we're working out a deal where we would get some of the dates - if not all of them - replaced on the back end of the year.

The Woodbine meeting is scheduled to end on Sunday, Dec. 3.

Lots of distance changes

Racing over a revamped Standardbred track will lead to a number of changes in the racing and training programs here.

The dimensions of the temporary dirt oval will accommodate a limited menu of distances with races to be run at five furlongs, 7 1/2 furlongs, a mile, and 1 1/16 miles. All fields will be restricted to a maximum of 12 starters.

Also, 10 stakes will be run at distances other than those originally advertised.

Six of the stakes are for 2-year-olds and the distance switches shouldn't present a problem.

The July 8 Clarendon and July 16 Shady Well will go at five furlongs rather than 5 1/2 furlongs. The July 22 Colin, Aug. 5 Nandi, Aug. 13 Vandal, and Aug. 19 Ontario Debutante, all of which had been six-furlong races, also have been shortened to five furlongs.

The July 22 Bold Venture and Aug. 6 Shepperton, both usually 6 1/2-furlong sprints for 3-year-olds and up, will be run at 7 1/2 furlongs.

The July 19 Deputy Minister for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and the Aug. 12 Duchess for 3-year-old fillies, scheduled as seven-furlong races, will be run at 7 1/2 furlongs.

Turf racing will not be affected during the changeover, and if turf races have to be switched to the main track they will go to the distance closest to their original distance.

And then there is the issue of training on the dirt, which will take place exclusively on the one-mile training track while the Polytrack surface is being installed.

Allison Read, Woodbine's head clocker, estimates that as many as 2,000 horses usually go to the track during the summer mornings, with the main track accommodating 60 percent of them.

Training track hours will be extended to accommodate the increased traffic.

Luzzi here to ride Throng in Marine

Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Marine for 3-year-olds drew just five horses, four of whom are Kentucky-breds.

Heading the field is Bear Character, who is returning from a couple of strong showings at Turfway Park and Keeneland for trainer Reade Baker, and Throng, who is coming off a first-level allowance win at Aqueduct for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Mike Luzzi will be in to ride Throng while Jim McAleney returns aboard Bear Character following a one-race hiatus.

Rounding out the field are Louie Nekia, Ok Nothanksforaskn, and Malakoff, the lone Queen's Plate-eligible in the lineup.

Weather causing problems

The main track was closed to training Wednesday morning as intermittent rain fell. A total of 13 horses worked over the training track, which was listed as sloppy.

One trainer who was particularly concerned with the prevailing weather and training conditions is Malcolm Pierce, who is looking to run Cryptograph in Monday's Grade 3, $150,000 Eclipse, a 1 1/16-mile race for 4-year-olds and upward.

"I don't really want to run him on a bad racetrack," said Pierce. "I'll put him in the entries, but I don't know whether he'll show up in the afternoon."

Cryptograph, runner-up to A Bit O'Gold in the Sovereign Award older male vote last year, would be making his first start since winning the 1 1/16-mile Woodbine Slots Cup on Nov. 19.

"I worked him on Monday, and he worked well," said Pierce, who sent out Cryptograph to breeze five furlongs on a fast track in 1:00.80.

Pimlico Special-Preakness double

Canadian horseplayers will be able to wager directly into the Pimlico pools on Preakness Day for the first time on Saturday.

There will be no advance wagering at Woodbine on Pimlico's Saturday card but there will be wagering on Pimlico's Grade 1 Double, which consists of Friday's Pimlico Special and Saturday's Preakness.