04/14/2004 11:00PM

You can just call this track Mariah


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Then there is the wind.

Barreling down from the north, swirling from the southeast, and occasionally racing in dry and nasty from the west, wind is the prevailing climatological fact of Texas life, and it is wind that makes the playing field at Lone Star Park unique among American racecourses.

"Did you know," said Darren Rogers, Lone Star's director of communications, "that Dallas-Fort Worth is windier than Chicago?"

It was no brag, just fact. Truth be told, there are several American cities that have a higher average daily wind speed than the so-called "Windy City" of Chicago, including Boston, Milwaukee, and definitely the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex, which includes the suburban community of Grand Prairie, home of Lone Star Park.

"Well, just look at the name of the place," said Steve Asmussen, who is cruising along atop the national standings in terms of winners. "It's called Grand Prairie. You know, as in flat. What's going to stop the wind? That levee over there?"

Not hardly. Nor will the hedgerows of saw grass lining the rim of the backstretch, nor the occasional stand of brave trees. The wind pretty much runs the show around these parts, and the best thing to do is drink plenty of water, tighten the cap a notch, and keep the windows rolled up when you park.

Originally from the South Dakota town of Gettysburg, Asmussen has made Lone Star headquarters for his far-flung stable. He lives in nearby Arlington with his wife and three sons, and he has been running horses at Lone Star since the track opened in 1997, taking four titles and leading the all-time lists in both stakes and total wins.

In fact, of Asmussen's 1,153 winners nationally over the last three seasons, 265 - or 23 percent - have come at Lone Star. Significantly, he is also among a handful of regular Lone Star trainers who might have a horse good enough to run in a Breeders' Cup race when the World Championships come to Texas this fall.

At this point, Asmussen has definite visions of 3-year-old Cuvee running in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Cuvee was among the leaders of his division last year, winning the Champagne at Belmont. But when confronted with two turns on fast Santa Anita ground in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Cuvee threw in his only bad race of the season.

"He came out of California with a chip in an ankle," Asmussen said. "But what bothered him the most were his poor little white feet. They were on fire."

Right now, Cuvee is training at Churchill Downs. Asmussen is pointing for the seven-furlong Riva Ridge Stakes in New York on Belmont Stakes Day for Cuvee's return to action. After that, sprinting will be his game, with the Breeders' Cup the ultimate goal. Would the Asmussen colt have a home-court advantage at Lone Star come October?

"Not hardly," the trainer replied. "The day he gets here for the Breeders' Cup would be the first day he sets foot on the track. But even if he did train here, the track's very fair.

"It's shaped a lot like Monmouth Park," Asmussen went on. "You don't really need to slow down to make the turns. And the main track should be better in the fall than it is in summer, when the sun comes up at 5 a.m. and stays up until 9 at night, with 100 degrees every day. And then there's the wind.

"I just hope it doesn't get too wet," Asmussen added. "We can sometimes get a rainy fall. But this turf course can take a lot of water."

It is Ron Moore's job to make sure the Lone Star dirt and turf are at their best for Breeders' Cup Day, Oct. 30. The pressure will be high, given the purses and prestige of the event. But at least Moore has done enough time in the big leagues to handle any curves.

As Santa Anita's track superintendent in the 1970's and early 1980's, Moore maintained surfaces that were used by the likes of Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Exceller, and John Henry. After a stint as a line officer with the L.A. Police Department, he returned to racing and signed on with Lone Star shortly after it opened in 1997.

"The wind is harder on the turf than the dirt," said Moore, who followed his father, Bob Moore, into the profession. "It sucks the moisture right out of the course.

"But the solution isn't just more water," he went on. "It is the combination of water, aeration, and nutrition. The course has 11 acres of Bermuda 419, the same grass they have at Santa Anita, and it can take dry, hot weather."

As for the main track, Moore's crew must run the water trucks between every race, with three tracks spraying about 11,000 gallons every time around. Night racing helps the ground retain some degree of moisture, but nothing ever really stops the effects of the wind, except maybe rain.

"I heard this on the Weather Channel," Moore added. "Did you know Chicago isn't the real windy city? It's Dallas."