01/27/2005 1:00AM

Turfway winter is Deer Lake's main obstacle


Richard Kohnhorst has been working around racehorses since he was a teenager, so something like a canceled race isn't enough to shake him too badly. Still, the 51-year-old trainer would really like for Turfway Park to remain open Saturday, when Kohnhorst plans to saddle Deer Lake in search of a second straight stakes victory.

Turfway, as so often happens during the winter months, was forced to cancel most of its program on Wednesday, because of track condition, and the full card Thursday, because of cold. The possibility that the freeze-and-thaw pattern that frequently dogs the Florence, Ky., track could cause more problems with the racing surface is a distinct one indeed.

Nonetheless, Kohnhorst was hopeful Thursday that conditions would allow the $50,000 Forego to be run as scheduled Saturday. Having tucked his 20-horse stable into the refurbished High Point training center just east of Louisville, Kohnhorst has not missed any serious training with his horses in recent weeks.

"WinStar Farm laid a synthetic surface on its three-sixteenths-mile indoor track at High Point, and it's just like the one on the Keeneland training track," said Kohnhorst. "That can be a real advantage at this time of year, when other people are having to miss training because of the weather."

Deer Lake, one of seven older horses entered in the 6 1/2-furlong Forego, is co-owned by Stephen Howard and Steve Fugitte, a Churchill Downs vice president. Since being claimed for $62,500 in November 2003, Deer Lake has won 2 of 8 starts, most notably a half-length victory four weeks ago in the six-furlong Holiday Cheer at Turfway. The Holiday Cheer marked the first start for Deer Lake under Kohnhorst's care since Fugitte had taken the 6-year-old horse from Chuck Simon.

"The horse came to me dead fit," said Kohnhorst. "He came out of the last race well, and he's coming up to this very well. He's one of those old class horses that holds his conditioning. Hopefully he'll run his last race right back."

Private Horde, a steadily closing runner-up in the Holiday Cheer, appears to be the primary threat to Deer Lake in the Forego.