09/11/2002 11:00PM

Easy Grades to undergo throat surgery

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POMONA, Calif. - Easy Grades will undergo minor throat surgery Saturday, after an entrapped epiglottis contributed to his dull fifth-place finish Sept. 6 in the El Cajon Stakes at Del Mar. Runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby in April, Easy Grades entered the El Cajon following an impressive allowance win, but jockey Mike Smith said after the race Easy Grades was "in distress with his air." Though beaten only 5 3/4 lengths, Easy Grades was noncompetitive throughout.

Trainer Ted H. West scoped Easy Grades after the race and discovered Easy Grades had entrapped. According to West's father, Ted West, who assists his son, Easy Grades will miss two weeks of training. Easy Grades, 2 for 10 with earnings of $284,705, is one of few 3-year-olds pointing to the Strub Series for 4-year-olds next winter at Santa Anita. Came Home and War Emblem, who would have been eligible for the Strub, will retire after the Breeders' Cup.

Mysterious Cat aims for Pomona Handicap

Easy Grades was not the only West trainee to recently suffer minor misfortune. Mysterious Cat finished fifth as the 3-1 favorite Aug. 25 in the Longacres Mile, bleeding for the first time in his 16-race career. The 4-year-old Mysterious Cat has returned to Southern California, and West hopes to run him in the $100,000 Ralph M. Hinds Pomona Invitational Handicap on Sept. 29. Mysterious Cat has won three races and $191,988 from 16 starts. In two starts at Fairplex, he has two third-place finishes.

Spawr's barn remains well-stocked

Trainer Bill Spawr's busy summer will continue during the Fairplex meet. Spawr started 92 runners at Del Mar and won 16 races, second at the meet in both categories. Expectations are for Spawr to be among the meet leaders at Fairplex in starts and wins. Spawr has 30 horses stabled at Fairplex.

Spawr entered contender Affirm Cat in the opening-day Foothill Stakes, and he has comebacker Hyder in the $50,000 Aprisa Handicap on Sept. 18 and well-regarded maiden Last Kiss for the $100,000 Barretts Debutante on Sept. 21. Spawr also will key a potentially effective jockey-trainer combination. Tyler Baze will ride first call for Spawr throughout the meet.

Black Ruby vs. Taz yet again

Taz, a mule, has defeated Black Ruby, another mule, once a year for the last five years. The question Saturday at Fairplex Park is whether the annual quota has been used up. Black Ruby, widely believed to be the best mule in racing, is the overwhelming favorite to defeat Taz once again in a rematch of a match race held Sunday at Del Mar.

Black Ruby beat Taz by two lengths last weekend in the non-wagering exhibition, the first race for both mules since Taz upset Black Ruby on Aug. 24 at Sacramento. Fairplex will offer win betting on the 350-yard race, the 12th on a 12-race card. Black Ruby, who will carry 129 pounds, has been installed as the 2-5 favorite. Taz, who drops five pounds off her Del Mar race, is even-money under 124 pounds.

Females are the dominant gender in mule racing, which is one reason the female Black Ruby has used the male Taz as her punching bag for most of the past five years. However, Taz earned $4,000 last weekend to push his earnings over the $100,000 mark. "Taz is the best male mule that has ever run," stated Ruth Burdick, wife of trainer Ed Burdick. Black Ruby has earned $167,500. Black Ruby is a 10-year-old mare; Taz is an 8-year-old gelding.

Pine for Java awaits Beau Brummel

Runner-up behind highly regarded Vindication in an allowance race Aug. 22, Pine for Java might have gone for glory by running Wednesday in the Del Mar Futurity. Trainer Caesar Dominguez thought better. "If they'd have gone in 1:10, I would have gone in the Futurity," Dominguez said. "But they went in 1:11 and two. He would have been 20-1."

Instead, Pine for Java will be one of the most heavily fancied runners Tuesday at Fairplex in the $50,000 Beau Brummel Stakes. Pine for Java is the best 2-year-old in Dominguez's barn, and the trainer is not particularly awestruck by the colt who beat Pine for Java. That is the Bob Baffert-trained Vindication. "At this point, I think he's just another horse," Dominguez said.

Dominguez might already have had a 2-year-old graded stakes winner if his filly Dutchess Eben had not gotten sick and been scratched from the Grade 2 Sorrento

Aug. 10. Unfortunately, in her first work after recovering, she chipped her right knee. Dominguez said arthroscopic surgery was performed on the Cherokee Run filly, who will not return until the winter meet at Santa Anita.

* Jockey Joe Steiner has appealed a three-day suspension handed out by Del Mar stewards for an incident in the eighth race on Sept. 6. Steiner's mount, Cat on Guard, was disqualified and placed second for allegedly interfering with runner-up Mecanico. Steiner, who recently teamed with agent Vic Lipton, plans to ride throughout the Fairplex meet.