11/23/2007 12:00AM

Elliston hopes Polytrack problem is solved

EmailThe Polytrack honeymoon ended abruptly last February at Turfway Park with several cancellations at the Florence, Ky., track. Although track president Bob Elliston said only one cancellation was attributable to the racing surface, some jockeys said the track was unsuitable for racing during a span of several weeks when weather conditions were nasty.

Elliston doesn't think a similar problem will occur during the Turfway meet that begins Sunday.

"Balling up" was the term commonly used to describe how Polytrack was sticking to horses' hooves, and trainers found themselves resorting to using non-stick sprays to try to ease the problem. First installed for the Turfway fall meet in September 2005, Polytrack had passed all its easier tests - weather was uncommonly mild during the winter of 2005-06, and it is rarely a factor during fall meets - until that bump in the road popped up. Elliston maintained all along that the surface was something of a guinea pig, a work in progress, and wintertime in northern Kentucky is unpredictable and volatile.

Last summer, the composition of the surface was tweaked to include a higher percentage of an oil-based wax, which has seemed to eliminate the problem, at least so far.

"We'll know for sure when we get seven inches of snow," Elliston said. "But once we made the modification by adding an oil-based wax, we haven't seen any of that stickiness issue. It actually popped up about now on these cool mornings, but so far it's been very consistent, not too hard or too loose. With what I've seen, I'm confident we've mitigated a significant part of that problem."

Turfway jockey race looks wide open

With Julien Leparoux and Rafael Bejarano riding in California, and Miguel Mena riding in New Orleans, there should be plenty of opportunity for jockeys at Turfway this winter.

At least for the holiday meet, which runs through Dec. 31, Brian Hernandez Jr. looks like a viable candidate for leading rider. Hernandez plans to leave sometime around the first of the year for the Oaklawn Park meet that begins Jan. 18.

Among the other prospective top-10 riders who will be active here from opening day are Victor Lebron, James Lopez, John McKee, Edgar Paucar, Rodney Prescott, Terry Thompson, Bill Troilo, and Dean Sarvis. Most of them will be staying through the winter, although McKee said he is considering going to Gulfstream Park and Thompson always rides at Oaklawn.

Among apprentices, Dylan Williams and Fernando De La Cruz both figure to have a productive meet. Williams was the leading rider at the Turfway fall meet, and De La Cruz won two races on a recent Churchill Downs card.

Falls City win eases pain for Borel, Tomlinson

Jockey Calvin Borel and trainer Mike Tomlinson both took care of some old wounds by teaming to win the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap on Thursday at Churchill with Kettleoneup.

Last year, Borel had the mount on the Falls City winner, Ermine, but suffered a broken wrist in an earlier race that day.

"It was kind of hard watching her win in the hospital," Borel recalled.

Tomlinson was in agony earlier this meet when one of his best horses, Casino Evil, was euthanized the day after breaking down in the Nov. 3 Ack Ack Handicap.

"This sure puts a big Band-Aid on the meet," Tomlinson said.

Brown gets first win as trainer

Chad Brown, a former assistant to Bobby Frankel, registered his first career victory as a trainer when favored Dual Jewels ($4.40) won the fifth race Friday at Churchill.

Brown went out on his own last month, and Dual Jewels was just his second starter. Dual Jewels was claimed from the $5,000 race by owner-trainer Mike Johnson, who won a 19-way shake for the horse.

* Panty Raid, third as the even-money favorite in the Falls City for trainer Todd Pletcher, is headed to Southern California to join a string that includes several of the stable's top runners, including Rags to Riches and Ravel.

* Jockey Rafael Mojica Jr. suffered a broken collarbone in a Thursday spill and is expected to be sidelined for about six weeks, agent Julio Espinoza said. Mojica, 25, was injured when his mount, Midway Station, fell in the fourth race.

* Leparoux took off all mounts after the third race Friday when he felt ill with flu-like symptoms. He was expected to be back Saturday, agent Steve Bass said. As the meet wound down, Leparoux was in the thick of the Churchill jockeys' race with Borel and several others.