08/06/2007 12:00AM

Easy win for Now Victory


Things sometimes have a way of working out, trainer Dean Pederson has discovered.

Though unhappy when the Joseph T. Grace Handicap at the Sonoma County Fair had its purse cut in half from $100,000 to $50,000, Pederson brought Now Victory back to defend his title Saturday.

Now Victory relaxed nicely under Frank Alvarado and scored a wire-to-wire victory with remarkable ease, defeating Eager Pharisien by 2 1/2 lengths in the 1o1/16-mile turf race.

Now Victory's win may have been made a little easier by the late scratch of morning-line favorite Red Fort, but his race was so strong that it's hard to imagine Red Fort beating him.

The announcement of Red Fort's scratch came minutes before horses reported to the paddock for the stakes. Steward Darrel McHargue said trainer Neil Drysdale made the request to scratch after jockey Russell Baze called to tell Drysdale he had concerns about the condition of the turf course. McHargue said the stewards allowed Drysdale to scratch.

The only turf course on the fair circuit, it saw frequent use during the meeting. There were 47 turf races carded during the 18-day meet, which ended Monday, and the Grace was the 41st.

Because of a jockey complaint on the second day of the meet about the softness of the course, fair officials cut back on the watering and the course dried out some.

Baze aggravates shoulder injury

Baze was taken off his mounts Saturday after Country Rhythm bobbled badly on the turf, exacerbating a shoulder problem. He was back on his mounts Sunday, including a win in the Cavonnier Juvenile Stakes aboard Whatever Whenever. He did not ride Monday, but that was always planned as an off day to give him two days off before the start of Wednesday's Bay Meadows Fair meet.

Baze has been fighting the shoulder problem for nearly two weeks. The problem started during a workout when a horse stumbled badly and Baze was whiplashed back as the horse regained his balance.

"I felt a real pain between my shoulders, and my right arm was numb for the next three or four jumps," he said.

Baze upped the dosage of some pain medication Saturday night.

"It's the kind that doesn't make you groggy so it doesn't affect you when you're riding," he said.

He also took a whirlpool treatment Sunday before riding.

Le Fromage breaks own record

The 9-year-old Arabian Le Fromage broke his own track record at Santa Rosa on Saturday, winning the one-mile Hazel Lucas Handicap in 1:46.31. He beat his old record of 1:47.88, set in 2005.

Trainer Helen Shelley had geared his training to the distance, galloping him two miles every other day and taking him to the track on the other day to give him "something to do."

"He's good with more distance," she said. "He doesn't like to be rushed. When he runs five furlongs, there's not enough distance for him to get up, but at this distance, he's good."

Le Fromage, who scored his first win in eight 2007 starts, has 5 wins, 3 seconds and 2 thirds when running one mile.

"I've only had him two years," Shelley said, "but I remember his first race at Los Alamitos. He got pinned under the starting gate, and I didn't think they'd get him out. He still has a neck injury from that, but it hasn't hurt his form."

Sarah Nelson rebounds

Heading into Sunday's Santa Rosa Mule Championship, owner Roger Downey was confident that Sarah Nelson could bounce back from two straight losses, and he was right.

She broke alertly under regular rider Robert Boyce, who missed her previous start the week before because of a family commitment, and turned the tables on Bar JF Hot Ticket, who had set a world record in beating her the previous week.

"She's so easy to ride," Boyce said. "She's almost like a Quarter Horse. She's competitive, and it's almost like she was waiting on Hot Ticket, so I tried to keep her close where she could see her."

Sarah Nelson's 46th career victory was sweet for both Boyce and Downey, given the two straight defeats.

"We needed that win for the barn," Downey said.

"It helped to get Robert back. He's liked the animal ever since he first got on her. They just fit together."

Sarah Nelson is the new queen of the mules, but Downey says she's different than Black Ruby, who dominated mule racing in California for many years.

"Black Ruby was more like a machine," he said. "Sarah is more into what happens at the time. She has a special competitiveness, but like any athlete, she can be lazy at times. That's why Robert made sure Sarah had Hot Ticket in sight."