08/20/2004 12:00AM

Disaster barely avoided on turf


DEL MAR, Calif. - Three members of the Del Mar turf course staff nearly caused a catastrophic accident in the seventh race Thursday, when they were forced to scramble under the rail to avoid a field of seven horses while replacing divots on the turf course.

The three men dove under the inside rail just as the field turned for home and had so little time to react that they left a plastic bucket on the course, which the runners nearly struck.

The incident occurred with approximately a quarter-mile remaining in a race over 1 3/8 miles on turf. The three men walked onto the course and began working when the field passed the far turn for the first time. They were alerted of the oncoming field by the screams of the jockeys.

Jockey Tyler Baze, who was leading aboard eventual winner Gent, said he had heard rider Martin Pedroza scream at the maintenance staff.

"I heard Martin yell, 'Hey get out of the way,' " he said. "I looked up and saw them and yelled, too. I lost my voice. Those guys looked like they were diving for the Olympic swim team. They left the bucket out there. I'm glad nobody hit it. It scared the crap out of me."

Baze steadied Gent on the final turn and went on to win the $58,800 optional claimer by two lengths. The six other runners were forced to steady or go wide to avoid the bucket.

The stewards did not conduct an inquiry, but were scheduled to hold a hearing with the three maintenance workers Friday.

"We might have erred in not putting [an inquiry] up," said steward George Slender. "We didn't think the horses were compromised."

Slender said the stewards did not consider calling the race a no-contest.

"We did not call the race off, because we didn't think there was ground enough to do it," he said. "The horse on the lead steadied slightly, and two others shifted out. If a majority of the field is hampered, we'll call the race off. The men had no business being out on the course."

At least one horse owner, Tom Kagele, who owns third-place finisher Risky Weather, was financially affected by the incident, according to Risky Weather's trainer, Mike Machowsky.

Risky Weather, ridden by Victor Espinoza, was fourth on the final turn, swerved out to avoid the crew, and rallied to finish third, missing second by a head. According to Machowsky, Kagele bet $1,500 to win and place on Risky Weather.

"Our horse was bothered dramatically," Machowsky said. "Victor had to steady because he thought they were all going down."

Humberto Ascanio, the Del Mar-based assistant to trainer Bobby Frankel, said the race should have been declared no contest for betting purposes, but with the purse money still awarded. Ascanio saddled second-place finisher Jipapibaquigrafo.

"It was a terrible situation," he said Friday morning. "It was scary."

Yakteen ready to go solo

Tim Yakteen, an assistant trainer to Bob Baffert and Charlie Whittingham over the last 15 years, said Thursday that he plans to launch his own stable in early September.

Yakteen, 40, currently directs Baffert's stable at Hollywood Park.

"If I'm going to go out on my own, I better do it now," Yakteen said. "I think it's a good time to give it a shot. I've more or less graduated from the University of Bob Baffert and the University of Charlie Whittingham."

Yakteen started with Baffert in Quarter Horse racing at Los Alamitos in the late 1980's and shifted to Thoroughbreds with Baffert in the early 1990's.

Yakteen worked for Whittingham in the mid-1990's, and has worked for Baffert at Hollywood Park for the last five years.

Yakteen, who plans to attend the Keeneland September yearling sale next month, said he will be based at Hollywood Park and has the support of Baffert.

Bonaire tries again in Barona Cup

Was it the distance or the level of competition that resulted in Bonaire finishing fourth last month in the San Clemente Handicap? Those are the questions trainer Neil Drysdale will seek to answer Sunday, when Bonaire heads the field in the $75,000 Barona Cup Handicap, part of the Pacific Classic undercard.

Bonaire was racing around two turns and beyond a sprint distance for the first time in the one-mile San Clemente. It marked the first time she finished out of the money in eight starts. But the San Clemente also had a significantly stronger field than the Barona Cup, which is essentially a consolation prize for 3-year-old fillies who were kept out of Saturday's Del Mar Oaks. Like the San Clemente, the Barona Cup is a one-mile grass race.

"I'm concerned about the distance," Drysdale said Friday morning. "We're going to try her a second time around two turns. Hopefully, she'll improve. But if she doesn't, we'll go back to sprinting at Santa Anita, 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill."

Bonaire drew the rail in the eight-horse field. Her primary rival might be Shake Off, who is also dropping into an easier spot after facing the likes of division leaders Ticker Tape and Miss Vegas in recent outings.

Harty wins for outside client

Trainer Eoin Harty's main client is still Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud Management, but he has begun to take on other owners as well. On Thursday, he won his first race for a client other than the sheikh when Boston Glory won the fifth race for Diane Rochelle's Eagle Oak Ranch.

"That was nice," Harty said. "She didn't spend a lot of money for that horse, and she was realistic about where he belonged, so we took a shot in a maiden claiming race, and it paid off."

Harty trains 50 horses, 35 for Darley. He has nine horses for Stan Fulton, who recently transferred some of his runners to Harty. One of the Fulton trainees is the 2-year-old filly R Fast Lady, who makes her debut in Sunday's first race.

"I like this filly a lot," Harty said. "She's very typical of all my 2-year-olds in that I haven't been particularly hard on her. She's done everything in hand. She acts like she has natural ability. She seems to have some talent. I'd be surprised if she doesn't run well. But she should improve no matter what."

Less on line for Golden Souvenir

When Golden Souvenir last competed, Aug. 1, he had more riding on him than any horse this meet. Scott Guenther had singled Golden Souvenir on a pick six ticket, and going into the day's final race, he had the only live ticket.

When Golden Souvenir defeated maidens, Guenther and three partners realized a $2 million windfall. If they wish, they can parlay some of that money when Golden Souvenir steps up to face first-level allowance runners in Sunday's second race.

"He's one of those horses who needs a perfect trip," said his trainer, Jeff Mullins. "He needs everything to go his way."

Golden Souvenir lost his first two starts, but prevailed when an extension cup blinker was added to his equipment last time.

"In the morning, when he breezed, he would lean out a little bit," Mullins said. "I didn't want that to transfer to the afternoon. If the rider's fighting him, it compromises his position. If you eliminate the vision to the outside, it helps him stay straight, and the rider doesn't have to fight him."

* Light Jig, a potential starter in the Palomar Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 4, worked a half-mile in 49.20 seconds Friday morning. Humberto Ascanio, the Del Mar assistant to trainer Bobby Frankel, said Etoile Montante was also under consideration for the Palomar.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman