08/05/2005 11:00PM

Early word on turf - it's fast


DEL MAR, Calif. - The quick times produced on the Del Mar turf this summer have caught turf course superintendent Leif Dickinson by surprise.

Through Friday, two course records have been set since the meeting began July 20. On July 27, Coronado's Pride ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:39.76, shaving .08 seconds off the previous record. Friday, Whata Soldier ran five furlongs in 55 seconds, knocking .06 seconds off the previous mark.

Wednesday, in the Escondido Handicap, Sarafan ran 1 3/8 miles in 2:12.06, .01 seconds quicker than the previous mark. His time was nullified when he was disqualified and placed second for causing interference near the wire.

Dickinson said the records and fast times recorded in other races were not expected.

"We thought we'd be able to slow it down some," Dickinson said. "That was the intent. From a performance standpoint, it should have slowed down. I'm not trying to set track records. It just is fast."

Earlier this year, a majority of the course was resodded with GN-1 Bermuda, a grass type designed by champion pro golfer Greg Norman. Dickinson said the course is watered nightly and can sustain more water than previous surfaces. Portions of the course are hand-watered, if needed.

"We are keeping much more water on this profile than we have in the past," Dickinson said.

Dickinson said the course is kept at 2 3/4 inches, near the maximum length for Bermuda, which makes the course less green.

"The only thing we can really do at our disposal is mowing height and more water," he said. "Because of the uniformity problems with the irrigation, just throwing a lot of water on it creates problems. The wet areas get wetter, and the dry areas get drier. What we try to do is irrigate every night and hand water the dry spots. As far as the color goes, we won't get it at the height we're at."

Dickinson said the course has sustained "very little" wear and tear in the first two weeks of the seven-week meeting.

The course has the support of jockeys. Alex Solis, who through Friday was tied for fourth in the standings with 11 wins, said the course meets his satisfaction.

"It's fairly firm and has a good bounce to it," he said. "It's fair for all kind of horses. It seems the best horse is winning."

Dickinson said he is already thinking of ways to maintain the course over the winter and in 2006.

"We'll do some things differently," he said. "It would be tweaking the fertility, water and mowing programs, so it can be dialed in for seven weeks of intense racing.

"There is a certain learning curve with anything," he said. "The problem with horse racing - there isn't a lot of hard research and data you can turn to. We would like to have that."

This weekend, Del Mar is hosting an annual conference of track superintendents.

The conference will include "everything from dirt course to turf courses, information on soils and irrigation," Dickinson said. "If you can think of it on turf or dirt, we're going to talk about it."

Kasparoff sensed possibility of record

Friday's course record did not surprise trainer James Kasparoff.

Ridden by Corey Nakatani, Whata Soldier led throughout a $56,000 allowance race, setting fractions of 20.93 and 43.46 seconds and scoring by 2 1/4 lengths.

"I thought he might do it," Kasparoff said of the record. "This was probably the fastest group this year" that has run on this course.

Whata Soldier, 4, was claimed for $32,000 at Bay Meadows in September 2003, his second career start. Whata Soldier lost eight subsequent races before winning a turf sprint for maidens by four lengths over 5 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park on July 2, his first start since January.

"He has improved so much since I turned him out," Kasparoff said.

Kasparoff, 31, said he hopes to run Whata Soldier again before the Del Mar meeting ends Sept. 7. Whata Soldier is one of just two horses Kasparoff trains.

El Roblar heading to La Jolla

El Roblar, a sharp winner of a division of the Oceanside Stakes on opening day, will return for Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 La Jolla Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on turf, trainer Richard Mandella said.

El Roblar is likely to be favored in the La Jolla, which will also feature Willow o Wisp, the winner of the Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park in June.

El Roblar is unbeaten in three starts. He made his turf course and two-turn debut in the one-mile Oceanside, rallying from fourth to win by three-quarters of a length.

Victor Espinoza will ride El Roblar, replacing Solis, who will be at Arlington Park to ride Sweet Return in the Arlington Million.

* Jockey Garrett Gomez, who through Friday was third in the standings with 14 wins, is appealing a three-day suspension from track stewards for his ride on Sarafan. Gomez was cited for causing interference near the finish.