Santa Anita Dirt Resurfaces

Jim Hits 2 out of 3 at Aqueduct on Wednesday
Race 6: Alex's Buck $21.00 Won
Alex's Buck/Tropical Jetset $40.40 Exacta
Race 8: Zealous Boy $7.70 Won


The most important meet in the storied history of Southern California racing will start in an unofficial way Sunday, when Santa Anita reopens its stable area for training over a brand-new dirt track.

It's a back-to-the-future moment in California racing. The last dirt race at Santa Anita was in April 2007. Since then, the Arcadia, Calif., track has had a synthetic surface, marred by 16 days of canceled racing because of poor drainage.

Santa Anita's official opening day is Dec. 26. Horsemen will have a three-week window to acclimate their horses to the dirt. This will create an odd circuit in which racing and training at Del Mar and Hollywood will be on synthetics and at Fairplex and Santa Anita on dirt.

What handicappers will make out of this is anyone's guess. From watching simulcast signals across the country, my eyes tell me it is easier to transfer a horse's form from synthetics to dirt, than vice versa.

For example, horses training and racing over synthetic surfaces at Keeneland, Presque Isle Downs, Turfway Park and Woodbine seem to do well when shipping to racetracks with a dirt surface. Of course, class and race conditions must suit, but I feel secure that these horses are dead fit to run well.

Using this premise in the Breeders' Cup would have led us to three upset winners over Churchill Downs' dirt: Eldaafer (Marathon, $23.20) prepped at Turfway, Dubai Majesty (Filly & Mare Sprint, $19.20) last ran at Keeneland, and Dakota Phone (Mile, $77.40) raced at Hollywood.

We should watch closely how horses stabled at Hollywood fare against those housed at Fairplex and Santa Anita. The Hollywood surface had been hailed by horsemen as the best synthetic track in Southern California.

We might also see the return of "California speed" over dirt. Synthetic racing favors stalkers and closers, similar to grass racing. The old California dirt tracks favored speed, speed and more speed. The epitome of that was seeing jockey Patrick Valenzuela send a speed horse to a 21-second first-quarter mile and not slowing in the stretch.

Another angle will be the effects of the first winter rainstorm. Santa Anita either canceled training or put out orange cones to protect the inside of the track when the old dirt surface became saturated, irritating horsemen.

I can see it now. Horsemen will be howling at Santa Anita if morning training is canceled while the conditions at Hollywood remain perfect.

by Richard Eng

On the California worktab

DANCING IN SILKS (Black Minnaloushe) worked five furlongs in 1:00 over the Hollywood Park Cushion Track on Saturday. The 2009 Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) hero is winless in four starts this year, finishing sixth in the Ancient Title (G1) most recently.

Grade 1 runner-up SETSUKO (Pleasantly Perfect), unraced since a fourth as the favorite in the April 30 American Turf S. (G2), went in 1:01 4/5.

Stakes winner LILLY FA POOTZ (Gilded Time), unplaced in the recent Matriarch S. (G1), worked in 1:00 2/5.

NINA FEVER (Borrego), who exits a head second in the Glorious Song S. at Woodbine, was timed in 1:02 1/5.

Multiple stakes-placed IZSHELEGAL (Maria's Mon), unplaced in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), completed a half-mile in :49.




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