01/21/2010 1:00AM

Flood of good news in California


ARCADIA, Calif. - It has been a good week to be a racing fan in Southern California, even with no racing.

Rain and cancellations aside, good news outweighed the bad. First was the buoyant decision by Jerry and Ann Moss to race Zenyatta at age 6, followed by Santa Anita's announcement that it is considering replacing its synthetic surface with dirt after the winter meet.

The surface announcement is good news for horseplayers frustrated by the Santa Anita synthetics. A return to a consistent dirt surface that is fair to all styles is welcome news, indeed.

Fans of Zenyatta also had reason to celebrate. The announcement Zenyatta would race in 2010 adds a high degree of anticipation to the New Year and gives the sport more to look forward to than the grossly over-hyped Triple Crown races.

Zenyatta, because she emerged during the era of experimental surfaces, was tagged with a reputation as a synthetic specialist. But she can run on anything, and in 2010 Zenyatta will go on the road to prove it.

Yep, it was a good week in California - the possibility of dirt ahead at Santa Anita and dirt races ahead for Zenyatta. But that's not all that happened, and once again the notebook is full, with stuff like this . . .

* It would have been appropriate during the Eclipse Awards ceremony for someone to recognize Rachel Alexandra's former trainer Hal Wiggins, who developed the filly from unraced maiden to romping Kentucky Oaks winner. Without the 10-start foundation under Wiggins, including four wins in 2009, Rachel might not have achieved her amazing run.

* Take nothing away from Rachel Alexandra's trainer Steve Asmussen, the deserving Eclipse winner as outstanding trainer. Even watching from California, where Asmussen rarely participates, it is clear Asmussen runs a first-class operation with an outstanding supporting cast led by assistant Scott Blasi.

* As entertaining host of the Eclipse Awards ceremony, you have to give likeable Kenny Rice two thumbs up for a terrific job Monday night in Beverly Hills.

* When he was named 2009 outstanding jockey, Julien Leparoux joined Chris McCarron and Kent Desormeaux as Eclipse-winning apprentices to later win as journeymen. Is there hope for 2009 outstanding apprentice Christian Santiago-Reyes? Perhaps, but only if Santiago-Reyes loses his perpetual scowl and learns to crack an occasional smile.

* It would have been cool if Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra both headed to Oaklawn Park for an April 3 showdown in the Apple Blossom. But it won't happen this soon, which is fine for the folks at Santa Anita. The Apple Blossom would have overshadowed an important day - the Santa Anita Derby and three supporting stakes will be run April 3.

* Minutes after the Jan. 16 announcement Zenyatta would run again, a reporter asked Santa Anita director of racing Mike Harlow about the weight assignment for Zenyatta in the Santa Margarita Handicap on March 13. "What are you talking about?" Harlow said, smirking. The reporter asked, "You mean the Santa Margarita is weight-for-age?" Harlow was joking when he replied, "It will be by the time you get up to the pressbox."

* What do Brett Favre and Zenyatta have in common? Favre celebrated his 40th birthday the same day Zenyatta made it 13 straight winning the Grade 1 Lady's Secret Handicap. Unless there is something else, that is all they have in common. Did I miss anything?

* The San Diego Union-Tribune, home newspaper for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, reported this week that Del Mar will stay synthetic. It means the meet will remain a cute, seven weeks of summer fun with debatable relevance. Staying synthetic also reduces the chance Del Mar will ever host a Breeders' Cup. East Coast horsemen are not keen on synthetic-surface Breeders' Cups in California. Can you blame them?

* In winning the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes, Papa Clem became just the third 2009 Kentucky Derby starter to later win a graded stakes race. Summer Bird won three Grade 1's (Belmont, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup); Regal Ransom won a Grade 2 (Super Derby).

However, Papa Clem's San Fernando was not satisfying. The pace was slow, front-runners did not change position, closers failed to rally. That was the same knock after Papa Clem finished third in the slow-paced Malibu Stakes. Anyone who bet against Papa Clem for that reason in the San Fernando is obligated to bet against again in the Strub.

* Speaking of pace, Malibu winner M One Rifle faces a potentially excruciating scenario Saturday in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes. M One Rifle shook loose when he won the Malibu, but in the Palos Verdes he faces Ez Dreamer, Eaton's Gift, and Kinsale King. Looks like an absolute meltdown. The race is ripe for an upset by Supreme Summit.

* That assumes Santa Anita runs races Saturday. As of Thursday afternoon in a driving storm, it seemed unlikely. How long before trainers of California-based Kentucky Derby prospects say enough is enough and ship out for prep races and training elsewhere?

* It was 10 years ago today on Jan. 23, 2000, that trainer Eddie Gregson won the Grade 2 Santa Ynez with Penny Blues, his final stakes before his tragic death in June 2000. Gregson won the 1982 Kentucky Derby with Gato Del Sol, and now his former assistant Alexis Barba is on the Derby trail herself with Alphie's Bet and Make Music for Me. We will hear more about both good colts.

* The reported $10 billion bailout from Abu Dhabi to Dubai was actually only $5 billion according to the Wall Street Journal. Wonder if that means the purse of the Dubai World Cup could take a hit sometime in the future.

* In any other stable, Life Is Sweet would be No. 1. She is a star anyway, even next to stablemate Zenyatta. Life Is Sweet soon will strut her stuff again. She crushed the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, then tied up and scratched Jan. 2 when favored to win the San Gorgonio Handicap. Life Is Sweet is fine now, training well, and ready for a smasher Feb. 13 in the Grade 2 Santa Maria Handicap.

* Lava Man is back at the track, stabled with trainer Doug O'Neill at Hollywood Park. But don't worry, his future does not include racing. Lava Man will become either a pony or be retrained as a hunter-jumper.

* Kentucky Derby hopefuls battle Saturday in good Grade 3's. At Gulfstream Park in the Holy Bull, a strong group goes a one-turn mile. Jackson Bend was super at 2 and should be super at 3. He can win first start for trainer Nick Zito. At Fair Grounds in the Lecomte, lightly raced and improving Maximus Ruler hits on an upward pattern.