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Turf is too soft for Da Hoss He may go in Sprint rather than Mile at Breeders' Cup


ELMONT, N.Y. -- The turf course at Belmont Park has flunked the Michael Dickinson "high heel" test.

Yesterday, when Dickinson and his assistant, Joan Wakefield, walked the grassy inner strip, Wakefield stopped, changed shoes at about the seven-eighths pole and put on heels.

She had gone only a couple of feet when her heels sank so deep, she walked out of her shoes.

The result: Dickinson, who bases his stable at the Fair Hill Training Center near Elkton, is likely to scratch his star runner, Da Hoss, from Saturday's Breeders' Cup Mile and run him instead on the dirt in the Sprint.

It's also possible that the colt, winner of seven of 11 starts and considered one of the top 3-year-olds in training, won't race at all.

The horse, unbeaten in three grass starts, prefers turf so hard that "he can hear his feet rattle," Wakefield said.

"I'm adamant about advising the owners not to run him on the soft turf," said Dickinson, a former champion steeplechase trainer in England who has trained a flat stable in Maryland for seven years.

"I'm neutral about running him in the Sprint. He's shown equal ability on the dirt and grass. But he needs a fast track or firm turf. His best distance is a mile, and the question is, if we send him six furlongs [in the Sprint], is he really a sprinter?

"Ultimately, I'm leaving the decision up to the owners."

Three brothers, Art, Jack and J. R. Preston, who are in the oil business in Houston, own the colt. They purchased him last winter after he had won three consecutive starts at the minor-league Turf Paradise track in Phoenix. They are no strangers to the Breeders' Cup. They owned Groovy, who was second in 1987 in the Sprint to the filly Very Subtle.

"The Prestons called, told us they had just bought a horse, didn't know what they were going to do with him, but that we were getting him because they wanted to run in the Best Turn Stakes at Aqueduct," Wakefield said.

After Da Hoss won the race and then finished second to Talkin Man in the Gotham Stakes, there was no question that he was staying in Dickinson's Fair Hill barn.

And since then, the grandson of Mr. Prospector and Secretariat has been the sort of versatile animal that can only be described as many owners' and trainers' dream racehorse.

Da Hoss trains in Maryland, in the rural Cecil County countryside, but is adaptable enough to fly at a moment's notice to distant big-city spots all over the country. Since July, he has made two transcontinental flights to California, finishing second to Thunder Gulch in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park and then winning the Del Mar Derby at Del Mar.

Da Hoss runs on dirt and turf. He doesn't care who rides him. He has had eight jockeys in his 11 career starts and has raced at seven tracks. He never has been worse than second and has earned $635,778, averaging about $60,000 per start.

If he goes in the Sprint, Da Hoss will be ridden by Jerry Bailey, or by Mike Smith if the Prestons insist on staying in the Mile.

If the horse skips the Breeders' Cup, Dickinson likely will run him in the Hollywood Derby on Nov. 26, followed by a try in a $750,000 invitational seven-furlong sprint in December in Hong Kong.

Dickinson, 45, always has been imbued with an adventurous spirit.

After he conquered the British steeplechasing scene -- his runners once finished 1-2-3-4-5 in the Cheltenham Gold Cup -- he switched to the flat. When things didn't quite pan out for him in England, he quickly changed continents and set up shop in the NTC United States.

Along the way, he has picked up more than a few training tips, such as Wakefield's "high heel" test, gleaned from an experience when he took a former girlfriend with him to the races in England.

"We walked the course and when she sunk in with her high-heeled shoes at a particular spot, I told the jock to avoid it," Dickinson said. "He did, and we won the race, a pretty big one.

"The moral of that story, I guess, is this: When you take your girlfriend racing, make sure she wears high heels."

12th Breeders' Cup

When: Saturday

Where: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.

Card: There are seven races worth a total of $10 million. The event was founded 12 years ago by horse breeder John Gaines as a fall championship series.

Feature: $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic, headed by Cigar, the Maryland-bred 5-year-old who is undefeated in nine races in 1995. His opposition includes another Maryland-bred, Concern, who won the race last year.

Other races: Juvenile Fillies, Sprint, Distaff, Mile, Juvenile Colts, and Turf.

Post time: The post for the first race, the Juvenile Fillies, is 11:55 a.m. The last race, the Classic, goes off at 3:10 p.m.

TV: Channel 11, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Horse eligibility: To be eligible, horses must have been nominated to the series by the end of their yearling year. Supplementary, or late, entries are permitted at a cost of 12 percent of the total purse.

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