04/02/2007 11:00PM

Greg's Gold's situation touch-and-go

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When trainer David Hofmans arrives at his Hollywood Park stable before dawn, one of the first things he does is ask his staff about the condition of Greg's Gold, the barn's crack sprinter. When Greg's Gold returns from training, Hofmans asks again - and then gets further involved.

"I want to know the before and after," he said. "Then, I feel the legs again."

Greg's Gold, who starts in Saturday's $200,000 Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita, is one of the top sprinters in Southern California. But he suffered a tendon injury in late 2005 that kept him off the track throughout 2006 and is an ongoing concern for Hofmans and owner Bill Boswell of Calgary.

"With this type of problem, he could be retired tomorrow," Hofmans said.

The Grade 2 Potrero Grande, at 6 1/2 furlongs, will be Greg's Gold's second start of the year, following an eye-catching win by 3 1/4 lengths in a six-furlong allowance race Feb. 18. The February race, which earned a 107 Beyer, was Greg's Gold's third consecutive win, but his first since an impressive victory (with a 111 Beyer) in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar in July 2005.

Two months after the Bing Crosby, Greg's Gold was out of training. At the time, he was considered a candidate for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

"He had a tendon ligament tearing on his right tendon," Hofmans said.

The career-threatening injury led Boswell and Hofmans to try a relatively new stem-cell procedure designed to regenerate growth in the affected area.

In the procedure, fat cells are harvested from the hind end of the injured horse and developed into stem cells through a laboratory procedure. The stem cells, which occur naturally in horses, are used to regenerate healthy tissue. The cells are injected directly into the injured area to promote healing. Wade Byrd, a veterinarian at Southern California racetracks, handled the procedure.

The stem cell process is becoming more commonplace in horse racing as a way to aid recovery from tendon and knee injuries.

Even with the procedure, there were no guarantees that the 6-year-old Greg's Gold could return to racing. It was not until the recent allowance victory that Hofmans began to think that Greg's Gold had regained his 2005 form.

"That was a race that really impressed me, the way he did it and how easily he did it," Hofmans said. "I expected him to get to the outside, but he came through on the rail.

"You're constantly wondering if he can come back to that level," he said. "I think he's gotten there. He's as healthy and strong as he's ever been."

With extra attention, and ample time between races, Hofmans is optimistic that Greg's Gold can race through the year, and perhaps even make it to the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Monmouth Park in October.

"I see him racing all year long, but limited," Hofmans said. "We'll spread his races out, letting him down and taking the stress off. We want to avoid inflammation in the tendon. It's a balancing act. You have to keep him somewhat fit."

Training on Hollywood Park's synthetic Cushion Track surface has helped, Hofmans said. The trainer doubts whether Greg's Gold could have raced again if he trained on a conventional dirt surface.

"I think the Cushion Track has helped him," Hofmans said. "It's enabled me to do things I didn't think I would be able to do."

Still, Hofmans and his stable staff have been vigilant monitoring Greg's Gold's condition. They were at it again on Tuesday after Greg's Gold had a tune-up workout, zipping five furlongs in 1:00.80.

"We're constantly monitoring it every day," Hofmans said of the injury. "We don't want anything to happen. Bill Boswell would retire him."