05/21/2003 12:00AM

Track condition at issue after riders balk


WINNIPEG, Manitoba - The races were canceled at Assiniboia Downs on Sunday after the third race, and the cancellation spilled over to Monday's card, which also was called off.

The jockeys voted 12-6 not to ride after the third race on Sunday because of what they felt were unsafe track conditions. One night of rain had left the track sloppy, with some washed-out spots over the surface.

Live racing at the track was then canceled for Monday, and the purse money that would have been available is also gone, at least for this year.

There was an attempt to repair the track's sodden spots with shovels and later with harrows but neither solution was satisfactory to the jockeys, who took issue with some of the maintenance procedures.

The majority of trainers felt the jockeys should have ridden, stating that races had been run here in the past on numerous occasions in much worse conditions. The horsemen felt the track was safe, as did management.

One suggestion was that jockeys who didn't want to ride should be allowed to take off their mounts and the jockeys who did want to ride allowed to pick up those mounts.

"We have to learn from this," said Clayton Gray, the leading trainer at Assiniboia Downs seven times. "We can't be calling off the races every time it rains. The maintenance has to be looked at, and the jockeys who don't want to ride should be able to take off their mounts without repercussions.

"That would give some of the other kids a chance to ride if they want to. I would have more respect for a jockey that simply took off the horse and let us get another rider.

"We have to remember that it is the bettors that provide the living for all of us back here, and we have to make sure they have confidence that we are going to run when we say we are going to run"

Rohan Singh, one of the track's top riders, said, "The track was not cared for properly, and they never asked us what to do about it."

Darren Dunn, director of operations at Assiniboia, said the issue would be addressed.

"We're working with all parties to find a workable solution," Dunn said. "There's no question everyone loses when we don't race."