07/04/2006 11:00PM

Track conversion progressing


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The conversion of Woodbine's Standardbred track to a Thoroughbred surface is under way, in the hope that racing will resume as scheduled on Saturday.

A fleet of construction vehicles swung into action at 6 a.m. Tuesday, a little more than 12 hours after the final race was run over the main track here. The cushion of Woodbine's one-mile main track is being removed and transferred to the seven-furlong Standardbred track, which will host Thoroughbred racing while a Polytrack surface is installed in place of the former main track. Racing is scheduled to continue on the converted track until the end of August.

Woodbine dropped Wednesday and Friday from its schedule this week (Thursday already was dark following the holiday Monday program) to accommodate the quick change.

"We're making great progress," said Tom Cosgrove, director of Thoroughbred racing, on Wednesday morning. "So far, so good."

Several trainers and jockeys had been concerned that horses would not be able to test the surface until the actual races began on Saturday.

But with work going on at a steady clip and no rain in the forecast, Cosgrove has scheduled a mini-training session for Friday morning.

"We'll try and get 20 horses out there, and get as many jockeys as possible, between 6 and 6:30," said Cosgrove.

"Every rider we can get will have an opportunity to get a feel for it, have some comfort level."

Many trainers seemed to be adopting a wait-and-see attitude regarding the track, but assistant racing secretary Sheryl McSwain faced a deluge of entries on Wednesday morning.

"We'll have 10 races," said McSwain. "The Clarendon Stakes has six horses; the smallest field after that is eight."

A total of 84 horses, including 11 also-eligibles, are listed for the eight dirt races on the program.

Reade Baker, the leading trainer in wins, money won, and stakes wins at the meeting, has entered first-time starter Backgammon in the Clarendon and plans to be a frequent participant on the converted oval.

"It works at the Meadowlands," said Baker, referring to the annual conversion of that Standardbred oval for a Thoroughbred meeting. "If they've used the same expertise, why wouldn't it work here? I'm not worried about it at all."