12/26/2006 1:00AM

Wet weather could push route off turf


The featured ninth race on Thursday at Fair Grounds is carded for 1 1/8 miles on turf, but fans or bettors hoping to see a grass race should prepare for a surface switch.

The weather, accommodating during this meet's first few weeks, took a turn for the worse last week. Heavy rain forced the cancellation of Thursday's races. Friday was sloppy and off the turf, Saturday drier on the main track but still off the turf, and on Sunday afternoon the rain came again, turning the track soupy. Sunday became an epic morning workout day, with a remarkable 275 horses recording timed breezes.

With more rain forecast to move back into the New Orleans area Wednesday night into Thursday, some of the nine horses entered in Thursday's feature could wind up working Friday morning rather than racing Thursday afternoon. Strong candidates for an off-the-turf scratch include Great Victory and Transduction Gold, two of the three favorites. The third horse, the one who figures to attract the most betting support, is Heart of a Leader, who has a second and a third from four starts on dirt and Polytrack.

Heart of a Leader was second in his most recent race, his first since owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey split with trainer Dale Romans and dispersed their horses into various barns. Heart of a Leader had about a 50-foot walk on the Churchill Downs backstretch from the Romans shed row to that of trainer Ronny Werner. And in his first start for Werner, Heart of a Leader raced much like he had in the Romans barn - close, but no cigar.

Heart of a Leader's career record stands at 12-2-4-2, and he has the habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Racing Dec. 7 at Fair Grounds in a second-level allowance similar to Thursday's, Heart of a Leader held a one-length lead at the stretch call, but a Malcolm Pierce-trained horse named Zetetic came and got him in the final strides. Even when Heart of a Leader broke through with his second career win, he cut things close, scoring by a neck over a wet Churchill course.

Heart of a Leader definitely fits in a race that looks subpar for the class level, but Transduction Gold did finish well winning an entry-level turf allowance on this course Dec.o2. And Reverential, who starts for trainer Tom Amoss, has a better chance than his recent form would suggest.