05/25/2005 11:00PM

Two-furlong races lose steam

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Two-furlong races, Fort Erie style, have seen better days. Because of a change in the conditions of the races, fewer horses are being entered and the races aren't filling.

The dashes have been popular with the fans. The buzz around them and the handle they have generated demonstrate that.

The quarter-mile races have created such Fort Erie heroes as Pecos Star, Storming on Merit, and Pembroke Hall.

In 2000, Pecos Star rattled off six consecutive victories in the dashes. Storming on Merit bettered that during 2003 and 2004, when she blew away her opponents nine straight times.

In a streak that began late in 2002 and that ended last summer, Pembroke Hall won 10 consecutive quarter-mile races. The first nine were at the Fort, and the last was in the $50,000 Rocket Man Stakes in the Summit of Speed program at Calder.

Until this year, the two-furlong races were carded for $25,000 claimers at three-week intervals, one for male runners and one for the females. The assigned weight was 125 pounds, with one pound allowed for each $1,000 in claiming price down to a price of $6,000.

That format has been changed. This year, the races are for $12,500 claimers.

In the past, most of the two-furlong races went as written. This year, however, the response to them has been weak, and the races didn't fill on opening week.

The meet's first quarter-mile race took place Tuesday. Three male runners and three females were entered, but one mare, Glitter Cove, was scratched.

Emerging as the new champion speedball was Thats the Problem. He finished 2 1/2 lengths clear of Bermuda Triangle, who handed Pembroke Hall his sole defeat last year.

Pembroke Hall sat out the affair. Don MacRae, trainer of Pembroke Hall, said: "We're waiting for the Rocket Man Stakes at Calder" on July 9. "We're patient."

MacRae, who trained both Pecos Star and Storming on Merit, said that Storming on Merit has been retired and has been bred to Perfect Soul.

Noel Randall trains Thats the Problem. Tuesday's victory was Randall's second win in two starts at the Fort. Later on the same card, the Woodbine-based Randall saddled Cobra Star, who finished second.

Randall, 32, is now in his second year of training, having previously assisted Dave Dwyer, Mike Wright Jr., and Andrew Smith. Last year, in six treks to the Fort, Randall picked up three wins and a third-place finish.

Strong holiday business

Fort Erie's director of operations, Herb McGirr Jr., is pleased with the direction business is going. The all-sources handle on the track's races for the Monday holiday, Victoria Day, was $1,459,682. Last year, it was $1,258,256. It was the fourth consecutive Monday that the handle surpassed $1 million.

"The big difference, obviously, is the addition this year of California and New York City OTB," said McGirr. "But better still, is the ontrack. It's up also. The trend this week has been very favorable."

McGirr credits promotions, mainly, for the ontrack surge.