A few months ago, trainers and race officials were dreading the kind of footing and sparse entries only a severe drought can bring. Not anymore.

"The rain has certainly been a blessing," said Morven Park Race official Will O'Keefe of the remnants of hurricanes Dennis and Floyd. "We have gotten a good rain every week for the last four weeks, and the turf has rebounded incredibly."

Loudoun was one of the first counties in the Washington area to go on summer water restrictions, but all the courses have perked back up, and it looks like full race cards and good footing will be standard this fall.

The season opened Sept. 11, as 1999 spring champion Mason Lampton and Waukey earned their place in the winner's circle at the Glenwood Races. There were former and current champions among the winners that weekend, and if the good showing there is any indication of what trainers have been doing all summer, the new fall fox hunter's timber race series should be the most competitive.

Kinross Farm (The Plains), run by trainer Neil Morris, had nine horses at Glenwood. He came home with four first places, three seconds, one third and a fourth-place finish. Morris is prepping some of his winners for the big-money timber races--such as the International Gold Cup (Oct. 16) and the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup (Oct. 31)--later this fall.

Notes: Internationally speaking, English trainer Dai Williams is planning to fly over two horses--Father Sky and Bavario--to train and race for the larger purses. If his horses do well here and in England, he will be eligible for some bonus money for running in the two countries. This definitely will put the pressure on the American trainers for next year's World Timber Championship in May 2000. . . . Local trainers to watch include Dorothy Smithwick, Doug Fout, Jimmy Day and Mairead Carr. All have been working hard this summer on keeping horses fit for the fall. . . . The Virginia Fall Race Meet (Oct. 2-3) will be sanctioned racing on both days this year.

FALL RACE MEETS

FAIRFAX RACE MEET

When: Saturday

Where: Belmont Plantation in Leesburg

Post time: 2 p.m.

Info: 703-532-2257 or 703-787-6673

FOXFIELD FALL RACE MEET

When: Sunday

Where: Charlottesville

Post time: 1 p.m.

Info: 804-293-9501

COLONIAL DOWNS RACETRACK

When: Oct. 1

Where: New Kent (outside Richmond)

Post time: 3 p.m. (tentative)

Info: 804-966-1020

VIRGINIA FALL RACE MEET

When: Oct. 2-3

Where: Glenwood Park in Middleburg

Post time: 1:30 p.m.

Info: 540-687-5662

MORVEN PARK RACE MEET

When: Oct. 9

Where: Morven Park in Leesburg

Post time: 1:30 p.m.

Info: 703-777-2414

BEDFORD COUNTY POINT-TO-POINT

When: Oct. 10

Where: Wolf Branch Farm in Forest

Post time: 1:30 p.m.

Info: 804-586-1051

INTERNATIONAL GOLD CUP RACES

When: Oct. 16

Where: Great Meadow Course in The Plains

Post time: 1:30 p.m. (tickets are advance sale only)

Info: 540-347-2612.

MONTPELIER RACE MEET

When: Nov. 6

Where: Montpelier Station

Post time: 12:30 p.m.

Info: 540-672-2728

TIPS FOR SPECTATORS: Remember to pack lots of clothes and a good tailgate. The weather changes quickly in the fall. Steeplechase-goers are a tough lot and they rarely cancel because of bad weather. Check to see whether leashed dogs are allowed. Leave all glass containers and bottles at home. Many of the courses have livestock on them when they are not racing.

-- Sarah L. Greenhalgh