07/09/2001 12:00AM

Worms attack Saratoga


ELMONT, N.Y. - The army worms that wreaked havoc on Monmouth Park's turf course have infested the grass course of the Oklahoma Training Track at Saratoga Race Course, according to New York Racing Association officials.

The worms, which were discovered last week, have forced the closure of the training turf course indefinitely. Terry Meyocks, NYRA's president, said Sunday he was hopeful that the course would reopen sometime around the start of Saratoga's six-week meet on July 25.

To a lesser extent, the worms invaded Saratoga's two turf courses inside the main track, which under normal conditions wouldn't open until nine days before the start of the meet.

Meyocks estimated there are approximately 450 horses currently stabled at Saratoga and that number obviously will grow as the meet draws closer.

The army worms feed on top of the grass and leave brown spots, but they don't damage the foundation of the course.

Belmont Park's two grass courses haven't escaped unscathed either. Like the turf at Saratoga, Belmont's courses have been sprayed with insecticides to control the infestation. The army worms have caused minimal damage at Belmont and neither grass racing nor training is expected to be compromised.

Jerry Porcelli, NYRA's assistant track superintendent, said army worms are not common in the Northeast. One theory is that worm larvae were carried by the winds associated with slow-moving Tropical Storm Allison, which forged its way north late last month. Army worms are common in the Southeast, where they feast on corn and wheat.

"They also eat rye, fescue, and bluegrass, and we have a mixture of all that," Porcelli said. "They only feed at night and hide under the grass during the day. I think we have it well within control, because we acted right away with the insecticides."