07/19/2005 11:00PM

Fairmount track report


Trying to determine which party - the horse, the jockey, or the trainer - is most responsible for a Thoroughbred's success is racing's equivalent to the chicken-and-egg debate. But when it comes to determining whether races should be canceled, the jockey reigns supreme.

One evidence of this is the recent cancellation of a combined 12 races on July 4 and 14 at Fairmount Park. On each of these dates, jockeys elected not to race because of track conditions they deemed perilously wet, despite assurances from track personnel that the track was either fine or could be brought up to par after a brief delay.

Especially discouraging to track management was the Independence Day cancellation, when a rare packed house was shown the door after two races because of an isolated water-main break.

"There was a water-main break, but it was nowhere near where any horses would be," said Brian Zander, Fairmount's general manager. "There wasn't anything wrong with the track. Even the stewards, who always err on the side of caution, were saying, 'There's no danger.' But if you've got 20 guys in a room who don't want to race, you're kind of at their mercy."

"I think that stays with people when they think about returning to the place," said Lanny Brooks, a trainer and the head of Fairmount's Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "We'd never ask the jockeys to do anything that was unsafe, but they also need to realize that it's not just a matter of them losing a couple of mounts."

More disconcerting to Brooks was the cancellation of the last four races July 14, because of a storm-drenched track. Brooks said the jockeys elected to cancel the card even after Fairmount's track superintendent assured them that surface issues could be rectified after a brief delay.

"The story I heard was a couple jockeys took off," said jockey agent Frankie Medina, whose client Roberto Villafan was scheduled to ride that day. "From what Roberto told me, the track was very inconsistent, but he was willing to ride."

Jockey Tommy Pompell said that while he agreed with the decision to cancel the balance of the evening's races, he regrets the manner in which the verdict was reached.

"Each jock was just taking off, and that was kind of the wrong way to do it," he said. "After a couple of them did that, they should have had a meeting."

* Jockey Ramsey Zimmerman, who through Monday had 97 wins in 403 starts, remains the favorite to win the riding title, but Rafael Hernandez has surged lately to make a contest of it. In the last three weeks, Hernandez has cut Zimmerman's lead from 30 to 19.

* The jockey-trainer combination of Zimmerman and Ralph Martinez broke out of a mini-slump with four wins at Fairmount on Tuesday. Pompell also had four wins on the nine-race card.