03/01/2010 12:00AM

Course maintenance affecting some horses


OLDSMAR, Fla. - The stretch run of the here Feb. 20, when Karelian bore out in the stretch carrying Gio Ponti outward, put added focus on something that regular observers of turf races here have noted for some time - that in an unusually high number of turf races, some horses bear to the outside in the stretch as they cross the indentations left by the mowing tractor's wheels where the infield chute joins the main course.

In the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup, Karelian, who had led under Rosemary Homeister Jr. from the outset of the race, was attempting to stave off Gio Ponti's challenge when he bore out at that point of the course. Both Karelian and Gio Ponti drifted wide in the final sixteenth, with Karelian winning by a nose. Following a stewards' inquiry and claim of foul, the stewards left Karelian's number up.

Homeister believes it is the indentations in the course that result in many horses bearing out.

"That's exactly what it is," she said. "When they cross over those indentations they want to follow those paths, which curve to the outside. Some do it more than others, but it's not just young, inexperenced horses that do it. I've had older, more experienced horses do the same thing. And there's not much a rider can do other than keep it in the back of their mind that a horse might try and follow those paths.

"It's a great course, perhaps the best I've ever ridden over," Homeister added, "but I would hope there would be some way to address that problem."

Leading rider Daniel Centeno echoed Homeister's thoughts.

"It has to be the paths because if they bear out it's always at that same spot," he said. "You try to prepare yourself, but when you're down riding hard you are focused down the course. It's certainly something we'd like to see corrected, if it's possible."

Track superindentant Tom McLaughlin was asked about what could be done to fix the problem.

"It's a tough situation," he said. "If we were to cut straight down the course and cross over those paths the other way around, it's possible horses from the outside coming out of the chute would bear in and tighten up the field, creating a potentially hazardous incident."

The turf course here has received favorable comments since it was installed in 2000, which is one of the reasons Gio Ponti, a two-time Eclipse Award winner in 2009, shipped here to begin his 5-year-old season and prep for the Dubai World Cup. McLaughlin keeps the course lush and vibrant, even during unseasonably cold and wet weather, which has been the norm this season. Hopefully he, the jockeys, and management can huddle and figure out a solution for the current problem.