09/24/2007 12:00AM

Drill Down suffers fatal breakdown

EmailARCADIA, Calif. – The first fatal breakdown on Cushion Track at Santa Anita occurred Monday morning when the top 2-year-old colt Drill Down shattered his left cannon bone at the quarter pole and later was euthanized.

Drill Down was working seven furlongs soon after 8 a.m. After passing the quarter pole, he broke down without warning and sent jockey Michael Baze tumbling to the ground. The bone penetrated the skin on Drill Down's left leg.

"There was no way we could save him," shaken trainer Mike Machowsky said. "You don't expect it to end like this. You expect it to end with a few nice wins to his career. I am shell-shocked; this horse never missed a beat."

Baze, who was not seriously hurt, said he sensed nothing wrong the first part of the work.

"He was real relaxed," Baze said. "He just took a bad step at the quarter pole."

Drill Down raced three times for William and Suzanne Warren, who owned the late Breeders' Cup Classic winner Saint Liam. Drill Down scored an impressive maiden win in his second start July 28 at Del Mar and started as the 2-1 favorite Sept. 5 in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. He finished a troubled third in that seven-furlong race, and would have been one of the favorites Sunday in the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes.

The Norfolk is one of three graded stakes on the new Cushion Track surface this weekend at the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita, which opens Wednesday. The synthetic surface received much praise the first three weeks of training, but according to some horsemen the surface became inconsistent after weekend rain. Several trainers postponed works Monday or canceled them entirely due to what they perceived to be an uneven surface.

Machowsky changed Drill Down's work day from Sunday to Monday to allow the track a chance to dry out. He did not blame the surface for the breakdown.

"You're always hearing things about the racetrack, but I can't say the track is bad," Machowsky said. "It's just one of those things, and it's a tough one to choke down."

Cushion Track is billed as an all-weather surface, but when Magna track-surface consultant Ted Malloy was asked how the surface handled the approximate half-inch of weekend rain, he answered, "Not very well." Malloy said it will improve with revised maintenance procedures.

Santa Anita in summer replaced its dirt surface with Cushion Track, a mix of silica sand, synthetic fibers, elastic fibers, and shredded rubber, all coated in wax. The surface apparently was in good shape in dry weather, but did not drain properly when the rains came.

Malloy said that according to Cushion Track representatives, the bottom of the track became too tightly packed for water to seep through. The track is designed for water to seep through the base, where it drains away. As a result, and because of the type of waxed used, the first rain of the season last week was unable to penetrate. Malloy said deep renovation to the track and heavy watering once a week would allow the material to become more able to take rain.

Santa Anita vice president and general manager George Haines said: "We're doing everything we can to make this the safest track possible. Obviously we are concerned. Now that we have the track, we have to get the maintenance right."

Trainer Jack Carava had several main-track workouts scheduled for Monday morning, but made a last-minute decision to move his works to the dirt training track.

"It just didn't feel right," he said about the Cushion Track. "I know what they had to do [Sunday] to this track to get it to dry out."

The track was deep-harrowed on Sunday in an effort to speed the drying process, and Malloy said it will continue to be harrowed every Monday.

Darrell Vienna is another trainer who will take a cautious approach regarding the new surface.

"It's a work in progress, and I think they haven't got the point where they have it right yet," he said.

Vienna will work horses on the training track instead.

Despite losing the best horse in his stable, Machowsky remains a believer in the synthetic surfaces.

"I know that racing is trying to do what's best for the horses and the safety of the riders," he said. "I support that."

He said Drill Down, purchased for $350,000 in a 2-year-olds in training sale, was not insured.