07/29/2007 11:00PM

Clement becomes a pioneer

Email

DEL MAR, Calif. - Okay, that's it. Pack up the history books and tuck those memories away for good. Flashy names like Viking Spirit, Kissin' George, Crazy Kid, and Kona Gold, dripping with sprinter's speed, have been tossed on the dinosaur bone pile, then buried in what used to be called racetrack dirt. Save those tales for bonfires at the beach.

With a gritty bob of his dark brown nose, the turf sprinter In Summation and Corey Nakatani officially christened the new Polytrack era of main-track racing at Del Mar by defeating a brave Greg's Gold in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap last Sunday.

This is news. Wake the town and tell the Europeans. The anecdotal hype about grass horses taking to synthetic tracks like ducks to oranges just might be true.

The filly Nashoba's Key offered a clue during the Hollywood meet, where she won a small stakes on grass and then two large ones on Cushion Track. But she is a homegirl, California raised and trained, so her achievements have been held as purely local phenomena.

Then Sun Boat came along, bearing modest form on both turf and dirt, East and West, to rise from a claim and nearly win the Californian on Cushion Track and dominate the San Diego Handicap on Poly. But those were middle-distance races, and two turns is a whole different game than the one played by such Crosby veterans as Greg's Gold, Bordonaro, and Battle Won.

Christophe Clement, who trains In Summation, noted that his colt actually was not meant to be a grass horse. In fact, he was a brilliantly precocious 2-year-old over the Calder sand, winning his first five and just missing a sixth while trained by Frank Gomez. Clement got In Summation in the spring of 2006.

"There was a question mark about his feet," Clement said from his Saratoga stable Monday morning. Traveling assistant Jane Turner did the honors at Del Mar. "He was very sore. That's the reason why I switched him to the turf."

Before the Crosby, it had been almost 16 months since In Summation tried a main track and nearly two years since he won on anything other than grass, which means he might as well have been straight off the gallops at Chantilly when held up to the list of classic dirt horses who have contested the six-furlong Crosby.

After a number of valiant near-misses, In Summation finally won a stakes for Clement in June at Monmouth Park. The colt had run well before out West, most notably his close second in the 2006 Hollywood Turf Express, so at least the geography of the Crosby was not an outrageous idea. As for the terrain, owners Tom and Judy Moore, both Manhattan trial lawyers, very much liked the idea.

"Christophe has done a wonderful job with this horse, but he's conservative, and he's a little wary," Tom Moore said. "I said we should go to Del Mar. I thought this would be the surface for him."

Clement, 41, worked for trainers Alec Head, Luca Cumani, and Shug McGaughey before hanging his own shingle in 1991. Since then, he has become one of New York's most respected trainers, winning major races with the likes of Forbidden Apple, Voodoo Dancer, Flag Down, Honor Glide, Relaxed Gesture, and Vacare. Hard to believe, but the Crosby was Clement's first victory in a Grade 1 sprint.

"Well, I don't think I've had that many Grade 1 sprinters to begin with," Clement said with a laugh. "But that's okay. We'll take it. Life is good."

Life will be very good if Del Mar can start attracting Eastern talent for its main-track events over the new surface. The Del Mar Oaks and Del Mar Derby on the grass usually enjoy broad appeal, and the Pacific Classic has drawn well from other regions, primarily because of the million-dollar purse. Someone had to be first to climb the mountain, though, so credit goes to Clement and the Moores.

"The data was not good enough to really understand it, other than that it seemed to be fair," Clement said of Polytrack. "Horses won on the lead, horses won stalking, and horses won from out of it. I knew my horse had speed and would be stalking. The only thing I told Nakatani when I talked to him yesterday morning was to save something for the last quarter."

Nakatani saved just enough to hold off Greg's Gold, winner of the 2005 Crosby on conventional ground.

"Polytrack gives us so much more options with a turf horse, and it's about time," Clement said. "But I don't like to call In Summation only a turf horse. He's a very versatile horse. At the end of the day, if a horse is a really nice horse, then he will do well no matter where you take him."

In Summation will now take his Grade 1 status on the road and be pointed for either East Coast grass sprints or another Polytrack outing at Arlington Park. Then, as the 2008 season unfolds, there will be even more options on the calendar, including the first Breeders' Cup Sprint on a synthetic surface at Santa Anita Park.

"Don't worry," Clement said. "We won't forget that one."