07/31/2007 11:00PM

Adjusting to Polytrack


DEL MAR, Calif. - The first two weeks of racing on Del Mar's new Polytrack synthetic surface have left trainer Art Sherman baffled at times on the best way to prepare his horses.

He says the course he trains over in the morning is firmer than it is during the afternoon, when abundant sunshine makes the course more tiring. It has not been an easy transition for a trainer long-accustomed to racing on a speed-oriented conventional dirt track, and it has forced him to change his training style.

"I let them gallop and open up in the last part," he said, referring to a quicker finish during morning exercise. "I'm putting more miles in them. I'm training hard. I'm trying to adapt in how I train. It's been a long process.

"A couple of horses that ran well at Hollywood Park, I thought they'd run well and they staggered in."

Put simply, Sherman wishes the course played quicker, but realizes that is unlikely to occur.

"I've had a couple of different issues," Sherman said. "I think we have two different tracks from the morning to the afternoon. I wish they could tighten it down. If they could tighten it down, that would be the way to go."

Sherman said one adjustment he has made is expecting slower times for workouts and races. He had two horses - All Thee B and Movie Fan - work six furlongs in 1:16.80 on Wednesday morning. On a conventional dirt track, or even a Cushion Track synthetic surface such as Hollywood Park's, that would be slow time, but the time did not concern Sherman.

"That was a decent work," he said. "They would have gone in 1:14 on a different surface. You have to adjust."

Friday, Sherman starts Mike's Trippin in the eighth race, a maiden claimer over 5 1/2 furlongs. Mike's Trippin, winless in six starts, has enough speed to be an early factor. How the 3-year-old will handle his first start on Polytrack is a mystery to Sherman.

Sherman is convinced that Mike's Trippin needs every advantage to win Friday. He fears the track is not conducive to front-runners, which will make it more difficult for Mike's Trippin to win despite the race's short distance.

The modest race is Mike's Trippin's first start as a gelding, according to Sherman, who took the precaution of shipping the 3-year-old from Hollywood Park to Del Mar last week to give him a few extra days of training on Polytrack.

"He's a speed horse," Sherman said. "Maybe by the last race, the track might tighten up."

No changes to Polytrack planned

The condition of the Del Mar synthetic surface became the leading topic in the stable area this week after an argument between track president Joe Harper and owner Ahmed Zayat on Monday over the condition of the course led Zayat to pull approximately 25 horses out of California.

Zayat wanted a faster track, while Harper - echoing the instructions of the surface manufacturer - said officials would not change how they maintain the course before the meeting ends Sept.o5. His opinion was echoed Wednesday by director of racing Tom Robbins, who said an assessment will be made on the surface at the conclusion of the meeting. He said track officials are not planning any significant maintenance in coming days.

"Racing six days a week, there is not a lot we can do," Robbins said. "When the season is over, we'll put our heads together and see where we are."

Trainers are generally happy with the condition of the course, according to Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers.

Halpern said: "Ninety-nine percent of the discussion is positive. You can't put a number on it, but it's multiple times better than what we had. I'm not hearing people say, 'I wish we had the old track.' I'm hearing, 'Let's do what we can to make it ideal.'"

Bob Baffert, who trains for Zayat, said the synthetic track may lead him to buy a different sort of yearling or 2-year-old than those with the speed-influenced bloodlines that have become so dominant in California racing.

"I know if I buy a fast-looking horse and I put him on dirt, he'll be a fast horse," he said. "Now, you need a turf-influenced pedigree. I've got some horses that it will move way up. The jury is still out on this."

Baffert said that 10 of the horses he trained for Zayat have left.

"They went back East," he said. "They're spread out."

Several trainers, including Sherman, say the course is safer than a conventional dirt surface.

"We're not having the injuries we had," Sherman said.

Nashoba's Key in Clement Hirsch

Nashoba's Key, the leading older female in California, will start in Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap on the Polytrack and not in Saturday's $400,000 John Mabee Handicap on turf, trainer Carla Gaines said Wednesday.

The decision was made after Gaines spoke with owner Warren Williamson.

"He figures he can face the Grade 1 fillies on the grass at another date," Gaines said.

Unbeaten in five starts, Nashoba's Key won twice in graded stakes on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track - the Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap and the Vanity Handicap. She won a stakes for statebreds on turf at Hollywood Park in April.

Nashoba's Key drew the rail in the Grade 2 Hirsch, which is run over 1o1/16 miles. Balance, the 122-pound topweight, finished behind Nashoba's Key in the Milady and Vanity. She starts from post 3. The other entrants are Bai and Bai, River Savage, Somethinaboutlaura, and Tough Tiz's Sis.

The Grade 1 Mabee over 1 1/8 miles on turf has six entrants and is led by two 4-year-old fillies trained by Bobby Frankel - Price Tag, the 121-pound topweight, and Precious Kitten.