01/09/2004 1:00AM

Gill's tactics under fire again


ARCADIA, Calif. - A large-scale exodus from Southern California of horses claimed in recent months by owner Michael Gill has prompted Jack Liebau, the president of Santa Anita, to seek dialog with Gill over Gill's plans.

Gill, along with trainer Nick Canani, has claimed 71 horses at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park since Oct. 24. About 30 of those horses have left the circuit. They have not been replaced by a similar number of horses, Liebau said Friday.

"When Mr. Gill was allocated stalls, he said to us something to the effect that he would be represented by a large stable, that the horses he had would stay here, but if any left they would be replaced. That hasn't happened," Liebau said.

Liebau said he faxed a letter to Gill early in the week.

"I asked him to call," Liebau said. "He hasn't responded yet, but it's only been a few days, and I understand he had been in Cancun recently. Hopefully I'll hear from him soon. If not, I'll call."

Gill, who has a mortgage business in New Hampshire, was out of the office Friday and said he had not seen Liebau's fax.

"The horses we've sent out either didn't fit there, we couldn't get races to go for them, were sore and needed to go to the farm, or got hurt. And one, Tijiyr, died of pneumonia," Gill said from Connecticut, where he was on vacation. "I'm still trying to get a handle on everything out there. Some guys claim horses for $25,000 and win for $80,000. Some guys claim for $80,000 and win for $25,000. I'm learning who to buy from and who to stay away from. It's like a poker game. You see who bluffs, and who doesn't bluff. I'm still getting to know my trainer, Nick Canani. If he can't improve horses off of Jeff Mullins, maybe me and him have got to talk.

"Some of the horses don't fit out there," said Gill. "If they can't win for $12,500 or $16,000, they've got to go. It doesn't make sense to keep a cheap horse in California. The purses are better other places for those horses, and it costs too much out there with the worker's compensation. A lot of this is finding out who fits, and who doesn't. I will make two predictions: By the end of the year, I will make more starts in California than anyone. And I won't take another horse out of California for six months."

With the exception of stakes horses, California rules prevent horses from leaving the state to race until the meet at which they were claimed concludes. For instance, the 23 horses Gill claimed during Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting could not race elsewhere until that meet ended Nov. 9. The 38 horses Gill claimed at Hollywood Park's fall meeting could not race elsewhere until that meet ended Dec. 21.

On Dec. 31, the foal papers of 23 horses owned by Gill were taken from Santa Anita's racing office, which is required when horses leave the circuit. An additional seven had been taken Nov. 29.

Asked if he was concerned about the impact of so many horses leaving the circuit, Liebau replied, "The California industry as a whole is concerned, not just Santa Anita."

Thus far at Santa Anita's meeting, which opened Dec. 26, Gill has claimed 10 horses. They are not allowed to leave the state to race until the meet ends in April.

Gill has been a controversial figure wherever he has raced. Last year at Gulfstream Park, his aggressive claiming tactics angered other trainers. He was under intense scrutiny by Gulfstream security officials after a veterinarian who works for Gill amputated the leg of a horse who had been fatally injured on the racetrack. Gill subsequently filed a lawsuit against Gulfstream, claiming he had been portrayed as someone who might have used illegal medication on his horses, even though the horse in question was found to have been clean.

Gill subsequently was denied stall space last spring at Delaware Park and last fall at Calder Race Course. Gill's Eastern operation is based at a private facility in Pennsylvania. He ships from there to race in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and New York. He also has horses at Fair Grounds.

"In the East, if a race doesn't go at one place, you've got four tracks to pull from," Gill said. "In California, you're kind of stuck."

Gill's contentious past made Southern California officials wary when Gill first applied for stalls here. Because he deals primarily in claiming horses, there was fear a circuit already struggling to fill races would be hurt further if Gill made numerous claims and did not continue to race his horses here. But Gill was granted stalls, according to local racing officials, after assuring them that was not his intent. Gill reiterated that stance Friday.

"I'm committed to stay in California," Gill said. "I've sent some good, young horses out there. That's been the plan right from the beginning. The mistake I made was thinking I could run it like I did last year at Gulfstream, with cheap horses and high-end horses. It doesn't work that way, not with the cheap horses."

Taste of Paradise for sale

Taste of Paradise, who won last year's San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, is being sold at Barretts on Jan. 26 to dissolve the partnership of his current owners, Keith Abrahams and David Bloom, according to bloodstock agent Kathy Berkey, who is selling Taste of Paradise.

A 5-year-old horse trained by John Sadler, Taste of Paradise has not raced since finishing fifth in the Seabiscuit Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting in October. Taste of Paradise will have "three works coming into the sale to show he's okay," Berkey said.

Special Matter to Sunshine Millions

Special Matter, who scored a mild upset in an allowance race Thursday, will come right back Jan. 24 in the $500,000 Franks Farms Turf, one of the Sunshine Millions races that will be run at Gulfstream Park.

"It's a little close, but he likes to run," said trainer Rafael Becerra on Thursday morning. "We got a little lucky. We got a little hole there, a couple of the other horses bothered each other, but we didn't bother anybody and were home free."

* Jockey Ryan Fogelsonger, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury, is scheduled to begin working horses again Thursday and could ride sparingly beginning next weekend, according to his agent, Michelle Barsotti.

* Peace Rules, preparing for the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic, worked six furlongs in 1:12.80 on Friday at Hollywood Park for trainer Bobby Frankel.