12/28/2005 12:00AM

Del Mar likely to increase 2006 purses

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Leave Me Alone goes after her second Grade 1 win in Saturday's La Brea.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Del Mar is making a retroactive payment of $1 million to owners who had horses earn prize money in overnight races during the track's 2005 meeting.

The retroactive payment is the second from the meeting, held last summer. In August, a month after the meeting started, the track raised purses 5 percent and made the increase retroactive to the start of the season on July 20.

The two retroactive purse payments are likely to lead to a purse increase for the start of the 2006 meeting, pending negotiations by the track with the Thoroughbred Owners of California, according to Del Mar racing secretary Tom Robbins.

"We're proposing some stakes increases and more significant increases than the prior year," Robbins said. "If the TOC agrees to those, that will take up some of that money. I think we will take a more aggressive approach to our overnights."

Del Mar increased purses from 2004 before the start of the 2005 meeting.

The latest purse increase is a reflection of stronger-than-expected business in the final three weeks of the meeting, Robbins said.

"We went a little conservatively on our retro with several weeks remaining in the meet," he said. "We finished a lot stronger than we anticipated. We knew we would have some money left to distribute after that increase, but you tend to be conservative in case things go south. They went north."

Del Mar has taken such a conservative approach to purses that the track has made a retroactive purse payment annually since 2003.

Purse revenue at the 2005 meeting was higher than expected this year after Del Mar set a record for all-sources handle ($608,168,297) and average daily handle ($14,143,448) for the 43-day meeting. The average daily handle was up 4.8 percent compared with 2004.

Knapp's bad luck continues

Things can only get better for trainer Steve Knapp.

In the fall, Knapp was the top trainer at Oak Tree at Santa Anita, his first title, only to see his luck desert him during the Hollywood Park fall meeting.

From 43 starters at Hollywood, Knapp had 3 winners and 10 second-place finishers. "The horses ran, but we just didn't get there," he said. "If four or five had won, we would have had a nice meet."

The Santa Anita winter-spring meeting started on a down note for Knapp on Monday. One of his first starters, Por Gusto, was pulled up with a tendon injury from the California Breeders' Champion Stakes. The 2-year-old's career is over, Knapp said.

"He blew his tendon in a race," Knapp said. "We will probably give him away."

Even the weather is seemingly against Knapp. He has Guidebook nominated for Saturday's Monrovia Handicap on the hillside turf course, but the race could be transferred to dirt if the forecast of rain is accurate.

Knapp has a 50-horse stable, which includes a few stakes horses but mostly claimers. He is hoping to have ample starters in coming weeks.

"I've rested a lot of horses that did not run at Hollywood Park," he said.

Aside from Guidebook, the top horses include Wild Buddy, a candidate for the Sunshine Millions Classic or Sunshine Millions Turf on Jan. 28, and Brite Maneuvers, who finished third in the California Breeders' Champion Stakes behind Da Stoops on Monday.

Brite Maneuvers won the California Cup Juvenile in November. He will start in the Sunshine Millions Dash, Knapp said.

Knapp said that contending for the training title at this meeting may be difficult, considering that defending champion Doug O'Neill has more than 100 horses in his stable.

"If he's got a lot of maidens, he can win a lot of races," Knapp said of O'Neill. "To win the meet, you have to win 10, 12, or 14 races with maidens."

Turf to dirt for two fillies

Berbatim and Three Degrees, 3-year-old fillies who have excelled on turf this year, will switch surfaces for Saturday's $250,000 La Brea Stakes over seven furlongs.

Berbatim, trained by Richard Mandella for Gary and Wendy Broad, won the Providencia Stakes here in April but has not started since finishing fourth in the Del Mar Oaks in August.

Berbatim won a stakes on dirt at Canterbury Park in July 2004 before joining Mandella's stable.

"I think she might like it," Mandella said. "I think she's better on the grass, but I've got to see."

Three Degrees, trained by Paddy Gallagher, won the Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park in June. She was a close fifth in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in October, her most recent start. She has never run on the main track in her nine-race career.

Wednesday, Three Degrees breezed three furlongs in 36 seconds on turf.

"It's a bit of a gamble," Gallagher said of the switch in surfaces. "You don't know if they will take to it or not until you try it. She's doing well physically."

The La Brea, the final Grade 1 of 2005, could draw 14 fillies. The other probable starters include Cream Donut Keith, Great Intentions, Island Escape, Leave Me Alone, My Miss Storm Cat, Mystic Chant, Pussycat Doll, Resident Alien, Sharp Lisa, Simply Because, Thrilling Victory, and Trickle of Gold.

There are three shippers - Great Intentions and Mystic Chant are trained by Michael Hushion in New York, while Trickle of Gold has been training in Florida with Michael Gorham.

Trickle of Gold, a front-runner, will be trying for her seventh consecutive win, a streak that includes three stakes.

Dash next for Da Stoops

Da Stoops and Brite Maneuvers are bound for the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash for Cal-bred and Florida-bred 3-year-olds over six furlongs on Jan. 28.

Da Stoops won the California Breeders' Champion Stakes by 8 3/4 lengths on opening day, finishing seven furlongs in 1:21.63.

"We're clicking if he runs that race again," trainer Bob Baffert said of Da Stoops.

Brother Derek probable for San Rafael

Brother Derek has resumed training following his win in the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 17.

Trainer Dan Hendricks said he's leaning toward the San Rafael Stakes over a mile here on Jan. 14 instead of the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows on Jan. 29 for Brother Derek's 3-year-old debut.

"I would rather not ship, even just up north," he said. "Hopefully, I will do plenty of shipping later."