07/12/2007 12:00AM

Del Mar Polytrack passes test

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Bob Hess Jr. admits to getting little sleep Wednesday night. With the first day of training on Del Mar's new Polytrack synthetic surface looming Thursday, Hess tossed and turned, worried about how his horses would handle the surface.

"I was having nightmares about it," he said.

By late morning Thursday, Hess said his concern was a false alarm. Like several other trainers who sent horses over the surface for the first time Thursday, Hess gave the course a positive review.

"I thought it was wonderful," Hess said. "I was pretty skeptical, probably out of ignorance. You listen to people shooting their mouths off, all the complainers, but it was like running on velvet."

Del Mar is the second track in Southern California to install a synthetic surface, and the first to install a Polytrack brand surface. The track completed a rewaxing of the surface Wednesday, in time for the start of training Thursday.

Thursday's training session was not busy, with many of the circuit's horses still based at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. Del Mar's synthetic surface will have a more serious test at the beginning of next week, when more stables arrive, and on Wednesday afternoon, when the race meeting begins.

One concern is how the course will react to the warm and windy afternoon conditions that will be prevalent during the meeting, which runs through Sept. 5.

"We remain cautiously optimistic," director of racing Tom Robbins said. "As the days heat up, we'll continue to monitor it through the warmer hours, but so far, so good."

Trainer Mike Mitchell quizzed his staff about the surface, and got positive feedback. "I was throwing out things like, 'Was it too deep?' and they said, 'No,'" Mitchell said. "The reports I've gotten were really good. It's wonderful news."

Trainers Richard Matlow and David Hofmans compared the surface to the way the Hollywood Park Cushion Track surface played when it was installed last September.

"It seems similar to me," Matlow said. "They didn't come back blowing real hard, they didn't sweat, and they seemed to handle it fine."

Hofmans had half of his barn at Del Mar on Thursday and said: "They got over the track really well. It reminded me of the Cushion Track when they first put it in."

Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens exercised two horses for trainer Wesley Ward and said the track "was in great shape."

He said a synthetic track will make Del Mar a safer course during morning training since the track will no longer need renovation. Without renovation, there will no longer be the surge of activity that occurred after the track had been groomed. Instead, traffic is expected to be steadier through the morning training hours of 4:30 to 10 a.m.

"There will be no problem with the traffic," Stevens said.

Santa Anita starts Cushion Track work

Santa Anita's installation of its new Cushion Track surface was delayed by two days because of what track management described as miscommunication over permits with the city of Arcadia, but work began anew Thursday and the slight delay was not expected to have any impact on the track's overall timetable, Santa Anita president Ron Charles said.

"It was a minor issue," Charles said. "We needed a permit and we thought we had the paperwork done, but the city couldn't find it and we couldn't find our copy, so we just re-filed and got it approved quickly. The city has been great to work with. We're still on schedule. There were a few other things we needed to do in the meantime, not related to the excavation, so we did work on that for two days instead."

Santa Anita is closed for training this summer while Del Mar is racing. The circuit's overflow horses are at Hollywood Park. Santa Anita does not have a race meeting until Sept. 26, when the Oak Tree meeting begins.

Wood leaving Santa Anita post

Steve Wood will leave his position as Santa Anita's racetrack superintendent Sunday because of a conflict between the new synthetic surfaces at Del Mar and Santa Anita, Santa Anita announced in a statement released Thursday.

Wood, who has been with Santa Anita since 1989, will continue to work as track superintendent at Del Mar. Santa Anita is installing a Cushion Track synthetic surface in the next seven weeks.

Charles, the Santa Anita president, said in a statement that Wood would be unable to oversee both jobs and has decided to leave Santa Anita.

"We both believed that his obligations to the care and maintenance of the new Polytrack surface at the upcoming Del Mar meet created a severe timing conflict with the installation of Cushion Track this summer at Santa Anita," Charles said.

According to the statement, Wood will continue to work as a racetrack superintendent at Fairplex Park and on the California fair circuit. He also will act as a consultant on racing surfaces in Australia, Hong Kong, and Saudi Arabia.

No replacement has been named.

Freddie Ruth targets Sorrento

Freddie Ruth, a 10-length winner of a maiden race for 2-year-old fillies Wednesday, will be pointed for the $150,000 Sorrento Stakes over 6 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 8, trainer Jeff Mullins said.

Freddie Ruth ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.67 in Wednesay's sixth race, pulling clear after taking the lead in early stretch. The race was her second start, following a sixth in a five-furlong maiden race June 2.

"I knew she'd run good, but I didn't think she'd run that good," said Mullins, who trains the horse for Turf Express Inc. "I don't know what was chasing her."

- additional reporting by Jay Privman