07/10/2006 11:00PM

Turf sprint chute debuts


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The turf sprint, always a popular staple at Monmouth Park, returns Thursday in the $40,000 second-level allowance feature for fillies and mares.

Grass racing resumed on the Jersey Shore late last month with the introduction of a brand-new course. All of the turf races thus far have been at two turns.

Thursday's 5 1/2-furlong race will be the track's first from an infield chute, the most prominent addition during the $6 million course renovation. On the old course, sprints started on the backstretch.

The infield chute breaks away from the turf course midway down the backstretch and angles across the infield, ending just inside the clubhouse turn. For 5 1/2-furlong sprints, the gate is set at the back of the chute. There is a left-hand bend when the horses leave the chute and enter the backstretch.

The first grass sprint was delayed by the installation of a new camera position which will give the stewards and fans a head-on view of the break in the chute.

"We have our camera ready and rolling and we're ready to go," said race secretary Mike Dempsey.

The chute should help preserve the new turf course. By starting from the chute, the starting gate for sprints will no longer be dragged on and off the main course.

"It will save a lot of wear and tear," said Dempsey.

Just how will the chute impact the running of a race? Back when the races were started on the main course, most jockeys put their horses in all-out drives right from the break. The chute could introduce a new strategic element.

"Usually, in the old five-eighths turf races, the riders are all gunning like it's a Quarter Horse race," said trainer Joe Orseno. "I think with the chute, the riders will leave the gate and sit still to make it a more interesting race. Horses will actually be finishing instead of staggering to the wire."

Orseno has two entered in the race: , who will likely scratch if the race remains on the grass.

Can You See Me Now last ran on the main track at Keeneland in November 2005 in a second-level allowance race. She prompted the pace in the seven-furlong race before finishing third.

"We gave her the rest of the year off because her feet were bothering her from running here on this track," Orseno said. "That's why I'm trying to run her on the grass."

It will be the 5-year-old Can You See Me Now's third career grass start and first in a turf sprint. She did not hit the board in two turf routes.