08/28/2008 12:00AM

Garcia in dispute over Philly mount


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Being leading rider at a race meet is always nice, though nothing comes with it except bragging rights. To Alan Garcia and his agent, however, being leading rider at Saratoga is important enough to give up a mount in a $1 million race, face a possible fine, and lose a potential client.

Despite giving the connections of Alaazo a call to ride that horse in Monday's $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, Tony Micallef, the agent for Garcia, said his client will not ride that horse in that race. Micallef wants Garcia to ride at Saratoga on Monday in hopes of clinching the riding title. Through Thursday, Garcia led John Velazquez by three wins, 34-31.

The problem is, Ahmed Zayat, the owner of Alaazo, doesn't want to let Garcia out of his commitment, primarily because he can't find another rider for his horse. Zayat, through his racing manager Sobhy Sonbol, wants Garcia to keep his commitment or not be able to ride anywhere on Monday.

According to Sonbol, the New York stewards told him Wednesday that Garcia would not be permitted to ride at Saratoga on Monday if he didn't honor his Philadelphia Park commitment. The stewards said Thursday that is not the case. Had Garcia refused to ride a mount in a race in New York, the stewards could then have prevented him from riding another horse in that race.

On Thursday, the stewards told Micallef he could accept calls for Monday here.

Micallef believes a Saratoga riding title could be very important for the 22-year-old Garcia's career, and tried to explain that to Sonbol when he asked on Sunday to get out of the call.

"I thought I gave them plenty of time to get out of the call," Micallef said. "I gave him at least a week's notice. I was straight up with him, told him the reason why; he doesn't think that it's that important to be leading rider at Saratoga and I told him it is, it's a big deal. He's going to need a rider, because I'm not going to ride the horse."

When Sonbol was persistent in Micallef keeping his commitment, Micallef asked Sonbol for $5,000 for Garcia to ride the horse, according to both Sonbol and Micallef.

"What are you doing? What are you teaching this kid?" Sonbol said. "He's got the title in the bag anyway even without that last day. He could win the title and maybe win a million-dollar race, too. If I could get a good jockey I could release him. I'm not able to get a jockey - not a good jockey."

If Garcia doesn't ride Alaazo, Micallef could face fines from both the Philadelphia Park and New York stewards. Philadelphia Park was dark on Thursday, and the stewards were unavailable to comment. Entries for the Pennsylvania Derby were to be taken on Friday.

McLaughlin seeks first Spa title

Garcia's success goes hand and hand with trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, and McLaughlin is in line to capture his first Saratoga trainer's title. With eight winners since last Friday, McLaughlin has taken a 16-13 lead over Todd Pletcher entering the final four days of the meet.

"It matters a lot," said McLaughlin, who has not won a meet title on the New York Racing Association circuit. "The prestige of being leading trainer at Saratoga never was one of my goals. You just want to do well for your owners, but when you're three in front with five days to go, the fire in your belly says, 'Hey, let's go do this.' "

McLaughlin will have plenty of action over the final four days, including running Divine Park in the Grade 1 Woodward and Lucky Island in the Grade 1 Forego on Saturday. Pletcher, a six-time leading trainer at Saratoga, has eight horses entered on Saturday.

"Todd is one of my best friends," McLaughlin said. "A dead heat would be great for us, but we're very happy to be in this position."

Ward hopes for strong finish

While Wesley Ward won't finish as the leading trainer in terms of wins, he could finish on top in winning percentage. When Easy Ashley won Thursday's seventh race, it gave Ward a record of 8 wins from 20 starters for a healthy .40 winning percentage.

Ward hopes to conclude this meet in a big way when he runs Mine All Mine in Sunday's Grade 1 Spinaway and Notonthesamepage in Monday's Grade 1 Hopeful.

Ward had planned to run Notonthesamepage in the Sanford Stakes here on July 24, but the horse developed a temperature. It subsided quickly enough that Ward ran the horse two days later in the Tyro Stakes at Monmouth Park, where he was beaten by Fellow Crasher.

"In the Sanford I wanted to put him on the lead with blinkers," Ward said. "In the Tyro, he just blasted out of there and basically he just got outrun."

Ward is taking the blinkers off Notonthesamepage, and he is extremely happy with the way the colt has trained.

Ward said Mine All Mine was his best 2-year-old of either gender until recently, when Notonthesamepage overtook her. Mine All Mine won a maiden race by 9 3/4 lengths here on July 24.

Ward said he may also run August Rush in the Spinaway. August Rush won her debut on the turf on July 28.

Others pointing to the Spinaway include Casanova Move, Collegiate, Girlfrienontheside, Jardin, Mani Bhavan, Miss Ocean City, and Winning Brew.

Big Brown has turf work at Aqueduct

Big Brown worked five furlongs in 1:04.67 Thursday morning over Aqueduct's turf course in preparation for a start in the $500,000 Monmouth Stakes at Monmouth Park on Sept. 13.

Under Michelle Nevin, Big Brown's fractions were 12.70 seconds, 25.52, 39.99, and 53.11. The move was done around a triple set of cones set up on the course to protect the inner part of the turf. Aqueduct does not open until Oct. 29.

Dark Equation wins Turf Writers Cup

Dark Equation, second to stablemate High Action in the A.P. Smithwick three weeks ago, turned the tables on that rival by winning Thursday's Grade 1, $159,300 New York Turf Writers Cup by one-half length over Be Certain. It was a neck back to High Action in third.

After racing in sixth position, Dark Equation, under Matthew McCarron, made an outside rally to gain contention entering the stretch and came to the final fence just outside of Be Certain, to whom he was giving 13 pounds. Be Certain led after the final hurdle, but Dark Equation was able to run him down.

Dark Equation, a 7-year-old gelded son of Polish Numbers owned by Beverly Steinman and trained by Doug Fout, covered the 2 3/8 miles in 4:31.28 and returned $19.

"Matt had the perfect trip," Fout said. "We were very worried that the pace was going to be so quick for him; this horse usually drops way out of it if it's too fast. He's been training great, came out of the Smithwick super. I kept him up here because he does better at the flat track than he does back home [on a Virginia farm] and it paid off."

High Action, under Paddy Young, got stopped on the final turn as he tried to rally along the inside as per Fout's instructions.

"Poor Paddy, he stuck to exactly what I said," Fout said. "You could see he was trying to get through twice and he never did. The second time he probably should have gone out and followed Dark Equation."

* Earlier on the card, Silver Knockers overcame a stumbling start to rally for a 3 3/4-length victory over stabelmate Debbie Got Even in the $80,000 Halfmoon Stakes for fillies and mares. Both horses are trained by Nick Zito.

Silver Knockers, under Velazquez, covered seven furlongs in 1:23.70 and returned $4.40 as the 6-5 favorite.