06/02/2005 12:00AM

Turf racing returns - but only once per day


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Fort Erie's first turf race of the season, weather permitting, will be run on Saturday's card.

But there is something new. Track officials have been decided to limit turf races to one per day.

"It's to preserve the turf," said racing secretary Tom Gostlin. "We're running earlier on the turf than we ever have and we will run later than we ever have - definitely to the end of September, and with any luck we'll go into October with it."

And there is another twist - no turf racing for $5,000 or $8,000 claimers. "It's only for $12,500 and above - $18,000, starter allowances, and allowances," said Gostlin.

The decision didn't go down well with Layne Giliforte, the leading trainer at Fort Erie in 6 of the last 7 years.

"It's fine they are only having one turf race a day," he said. "But the whole bulk of the meet is geared for $5,000 claimers. Up until now we have been told that we have to face reality, that we're a B-meet track. Why eliminate the meat-and-potatoes of the meet from the turf? It doesn't make sense."

Elora goes for four consecutive wins

Saturday's turf race will be run at about five furlongs. It's a starter allowance for fillies and mares that have run for a $5,000 tag or lower in 2004-2005, and it drew 13 entries. The field is limited to 10.

Elora, owned and trained by Paul Mandalfin0, will try to extend her win streak to four in the race. She was bought privately last summer as a maiden for $750, which has turned out quite well.

Elora won her maiden at Mountaineer Park this spring, then followed with two wins at the Fort, one at the $5,000 level and her most recent at the $8,000 level. Chad Beckon retains the mount.

"She's got a good turf pedigree, but she's never been tried on it," said Mandalfino. "There's no reason why she shouldn't perform as well on the turf as she does on the dirt."

Meanwhile, Kirlan, a proven turf runner, will get her first start at the meet in this race. As a maiden, Kirlan failed to win on the dirt at the $5,000 level, but she won her maiden on turf at the $18,000 level.

Later, at 35-1, she finished second to Anthonia in the $40,000 Golden Horseshoe Stakes. She rallied strongly in that seven-furlong race and lost by a half-length.

"I don't know if the distance is right," said her trainer, Bob Williams, about Saturday's race. "But her class might get her there. She's on the outside. She can watch and have a look."

The meet's leading rider, Francine Villeneuve will ride Kirlan. Villeneuve leads second-place Beckon by three wins.