04/22/2005 11:00PM

This year, track is lap of luxury


MIAMI - A $2 reserved seat on the fourth floor of the grandstand here will seem like a luxury box at nearby Dolphins Stadium when racing returns to Calder Race Course on Monday for the first of two consecutive meetings that run through Jan. 2, 2006.

After spending almost four months watching races from under tents or outdoor verandas at Gulfstream Park, south Florida horseplayers will have a real grandstand to call home again. What they can expect at Calder in the long term, however, is less clear following a ballot during the offseason in which slot machines were voted down at the Dade County track for at least two more years.

"Naturally, losing the vote to get slots here was a disappointment," said Ken Dunn, Calder's president and general manager, "but regardless of what happened it wasn't going to have an effect on the 2005 meet, and it might not even affect the 2006 season, either, as long as it could take to get enabling legislation in this state. The horsemen here know we have not stopped working on getting slots, and we'll be able to go back to Dade again in 2007."

Dunn's strategy for a successful 2005 season at Calder is to get out of the gate fast, which is why racing secretary Bob Umphrey has scheduled four stakes on April 30, the opening Saturday of the meet.

"We've made a couple of changes in our stakes program and marketing approach, which I think will help lead to a successful meeting," said Dunn. "I also think following this particular Gulfstream meeting may bode well for us, too. I thought they did a great job over there under the circumstances, but there may be quite a few people who didn't attend the races as much as usual this winter due to the inconveniences who'll be anxious to get back to the track again."

Dunn hopes a big opening weekend, followed by the Triple Crown season, will get things rolling.

"After our first big stakes Saturday, we come back the following week with the Oaks and Kentucky Derby, which always draws big crowds," he said. "Then there's the Preakness, Belmont, and before you know it we've got our Summit of Speed, which has turned into one of the biggest days of the year. By mid-July there's a good chance we can be way ahead of where we were businesswise a year ago, and that would build good momentum for the entire meet."

An increase in business could help fuel a much-needed boost in purses, which will start at the same level they ended last year, $213,000 per day, according to Dunn.

Multiple stakes days have become a mainstay at Calder, with the Summit of Speed on July 9 and the track's signature event, the Festival of the Sun, on Oct. 15. Those two programs are again the highlights of the 122-day Calder session that runs through Oct. 16.

The $1.7 million Summit of Speed has grown into one of the classiest racing days on the national calendar and features the Grade 2 Smile Sprint and Princess Rooney handicaps, each worth $500,000, along with the Grade 2 Carry Back and Grade 3 Azalea Breeders' Cup stakes, which carry purses of $300,000 apiece. Among the horses already being mentioned as possible for the Summit of Speed is the undefeated 3-year-old sensation Lost in the Fog.

Monday's opening-day feature is the $40,000 Snurb Stakes at six furlongs for 3-year-old fillies. The race will mark the return of Aclassysassylassy, who last year became only the second filly to sweep all three legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes. Aclassysassylassy has not started since finishing second while making her turf debut in the Georgia Debutante on Dec. 12.

Aclassysassylassy figures to be a strong favorite over a field that includes Flying Circle, Running Bobcats, Babaganush, Sherrie Belle, and Midtown Miss.