07/07/2002 11:00PM

Trainers battle down to the wire

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - This is war, or at least that's what it looks like on paper Wednesday night at Lone Star Park.

With only five days of racing left at the meet and a training title hanging in the balance, Steve Asmussen and Cole Norman will start horses in eight of the nine races on the card.

Both have top contenders in the featured eighth race, a one-mile conditioned allowance that drew the Asmussen-trained entry of Heffelfinger and Rockies, and Norman's Remember the Party.

Asmussen, the all-time win leader at Lone Star who has won the past three titles at the track, leads Norman in the standings, 78-75.

Asmussen has entered 10 horses in eight races Wednesday, while Norman, the highest win-percentage trainer at the meet looking for his first Lone Star title, will start three horses in two races. Overall this season, the two trainers have won 153 of the 630 races carded at Lone Star.

Heffelfinger might have the upper hand in the eighth race based on company lines. In his last start he finished third to Seainsky, who returned in his next start to run third in the Grade 2 Arlington Classic. A closer, Heffelfinger will be more dependent on pace than Remember the Party, but should get an honest pace to chase Wednesday.

In addition to the training title, the race for leading owner could go down to the wire. Turf Express Inc. leads the standings with 22 wins, one more than defending champ Kenneth Murphy.

Among jockeys, Corey Lanerie appears to have locked up his third title at Lone Star. He leads the colony with 77 wins, while Anthony Lovato and Gerard Melancon are deadlocked in second with 55 wins each. The title will cap a big first half of the year for Lanerie, who in March won the Grade 2, $500,000 New Orleans Handicap with Parade Leader.

Action Tonight to Middleground

Action Tonight, winner of the colts and geldings division of the $122,500 Texas Stallion Stakes series for 2-year-olds on June 29, will make one more appearance at the meet in the $100,000 Middleground Breeders' Cup, run over six furlongs Saturday.

"He came out of his last race bucking and playing, so we have to give it a try," said Danny Pish, who trains Action Tonight.

Action Tonight is a half-brother to First Attraction, a past winner of the Jean Lafitte Futurity at Delta Downs.

The Middleground is one of three stakes scheduled for closing weekend at Lone Star. The closing day $100,000 Silver Spur Breeders' Cup on Sunday is for 2-year-old fillies over six furlongs

Also on the Sunday card will be the $75,000 Bob Johnson for 3-year-olds and up at a mile. Officials said probables are Grade 3 Texas Mile winner Unrullah Bull; Grade 3 Lone Star Park runner-up Prince Iroquois; Race on Green, Compendium, Big Numbers, Mountain General, and Rare Cure.

* Horsemen have claimed 240 horses through 65 days of racing for total receipts of $3,245,000. That's an average of $13,520 a claim this meet at Lone Star.