03/20/2004 12:00AM

Woodard learns to adapt

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OLDSMAR, Fla. - Trainer Joe Woodard is one of several trainers from the Kentucky circuit who are spending their first winter at Tampa Bay Downs, and thus far he likes what he has seen.

"It's really nice to know when you get up in the morning you're going to be able to train that day," said Woodard, a native of Louisville. "Racing up north in the winter is so tough, what with the weather and the cancellations and the days the tracks are closed or the track conditions are rough. Down here, the only thing you have to worry about is a sloppy track and that usually doesn't last long. Simply from a training standpoint, it's been better."

Although Woodard has slowed down a bit after getting off to a quick start, he is still having a solid meeting with 10 winners from 54 starters, with 24 of those runners in the money. He admits racing at a track for the first time requires a period of adjustment. Learning the racing surface and the racing program are important.

"You've got to have horses that fit the program, fit the races that are being used at any given track, and that's something you only learn through time," Woodard said. "We had some horses that just didn't fit that we sent out and brought some others in, but in time you learn what works and what doesn't.

"The same goes for the racetrack; every surface is different," he added. "This track is sandier that most of the ones we race over up north, and getting a feel of just how much horses get out of races and out of their training takes a bit of time but as the meet goes on you get a handle on it."

Woodard has about 60 horses both on the track and preparing for the spring at training centers. Like most trainers at this time of year, he is looking at the youngsters in his string.

"We've got some weanlings and some yearlings we have high hopes for. They really look good at this point in time, but it's like children, you just never know how they're going to turn out, you just hope for the best."

Woodard plans on having a sizable stable at River Downs this summer and will also race at other tracks in Kentucky and Ohio, primarily for owner Billy Hays.

Hot horses continue streak

Improvised, who came into this meeting with just 2 wins from 14 lifetime starts, won her sixth straight last Tuesday when she won the Tampa Turf Test for fillies and mares. As usual, she went to the front and was never headed. William Houle trains Improvised for Pinky Mendoza.

Later on the card, 9-year-old gelding Silver Alarm posted his fifth straight win under another rail-skimming ride from Alfredo Clemente. Silver Alarm, who had some horrendous trips at Delaware Park last summer, seems to have found the perfect partner in Clemente as the two have teamed up to win seven of Silver Alarm's last 10 starts dating back to last August at Thistledown. Cynthia Bayley is the hands-on owner of Silver Alarm.

Zimmerman ships out

The unpredictable career of jockey Ramsey Zimmerman took another turn this week when the rider who won the Sam Davis and was ranked ninth in the Tampa jockey standings with 29 wins suddenly packed his tack and left the area.

Zimmerman reportedly had a heated exchange with a trainer who was one of his regular clients. When the trainer told Zimmerman he would no longer be riding for the stable, Zimmerman left and headed to Fairmount Park.

Zimmerman won his first career race at Fairmount before moving on to ride at other tracks and Illinois and Kentucky in a career that has been interrupted several times with injuries and periodic absences from the sport.