08/14/2007 12:00AM

Headley in long dry spell


DEL MAR, Calif. - Four months ago, Santa Anita's winter meeting ended. Since then, hockey season ended. Basketball season ended. And trainer Bruce Headley stopped winning.

Whether on Cushion Track at Hollywood Park, or Polytrack at Del Mar, Headley has not won a race since April 13. He has had plenty of seconds, too many for his taste. Headley is hoping to end his inglorious streak no later than Sunday, when he sends out Arson Squad in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic and Surf Cat in the Grade 2, $300,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap.

The new era of synthetic surfaces has been "a mystery so far," the veteran trainer said Tuesday morning. His horses are training well, and not coming back injured. "They're just coming back with defeats," Headley said. "Sometimes you spend your time losing. It's a hard game."

Arson Squad was sixth in the San Diego Handicap on July 21, but he won the Strub Stakes earlier this year and the Swaps Stakes last year. Following the Strub, Arson Squad popped an abscess in a foot, which required a layoff, Headley said.

Surf Cat, 5, returned from a 14-month layoff on July 7 and finished second, just a head behind Bilo, in the Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park. They have a rematch in the Pat O'Brien. Surf Cat gave Bilo nine pounds (123 to 114) in the Triple Bend. The spread is six pounds (122-116) for the O'Brien, in which Surf Cat was made the highweight.

Before going to the sidelines last year, Surf Cat won four straight races, including the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park. He has finished first or second in 11 of his 12 races. At age 3, he won the Swaps Stakes.

Headley said he has not adjusted his training methods for Polytrack, believing his recent run is more a matter of bad luck than bad horses or training.

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks," he said. "I'm doing my old style. It hasn't thrown me into a tailspin. I'm still training exactly the same way."

Headley said training and handicapping Polytrack is "quite a guessing game."

"The old handicappers, the ones that have been around 30 years, are all mixed up," he said. "It's very slow. It's a brand-new project. Our old tracks, the sandy loam, were fine. We started getting problems when they started adding wood products to them, and it would ball up in their feet."

Emotional days for Lava Man camp

Noe Garcia, the groom for Lava Man who lost his left arm in an auto accident last month, is scheduled to be at the track on Sunday to watch Lava Man in the Pacific Classic. Garcia also was scheduled to be at the post position draw for the race on Wednesday night at a nearby hotel, and is scheduled to attend a fundraiser for him on Thursday.

"It's going to be a very emotional day on Sunday with Lava Man," said Dennis O'Neill, who assists his brother, Doug. "Hopefully it works out to be a fairy-tale ending on Sunday afternoon."

Garcia "originally was having a rough time," said O'Neill, who has spearheaded the fundraising efforts for Garcia. "He was really depressed, and we got him some counseling. At the end of the month he's supposed to get fitted for a new prosthetic arm. Our goal is to raise $100,000. If we can get him the Rolls-Royce of prosthetic arms, they say he'll be able to move the fingers on it within a year."

Thursday's fundraiser, a faux poker tournament with a $200 buy-in, begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Del Mar Hilton across the street from the track. O'Neill has secured several premium items, ranging from sports to politics, for a silent auction.

In addition to baseballs signed by Paul Lo Duca, Tom Glavine, and Jeff Kent, O'Neill said owner Merv Griffin donated several items before his death last weekend. Among them are a copy of a book from longtime family friend Ronald Reagan, signed by both Reagan and the president's widow, Nancy.

Donations to Garcia also can be made through a website, www.lavamanshero.com.

Quinonez having strong meet

The kids are all right this summer at Del Mar. Alonso Quinonez, the 23-year-old apprentice jockey, is a surprising sixth in the standings less than two months after relocating here from Kentucky. He and his agent, Brandon O'Bryan, 20, are fixtures on the backstretch every morning.

Quinonez has endeared himself to horsemen and bettors by bringing in a series of longshots, including an $87.80 winner last week. He is just two wins behind veterans David Flores and Corey Nakatani, who are tied for fourth.

Quinonez said his success so far is "more than I expected. Oh, yes."

"After Churchill Downs, I was either going to go to New York or come here," Quinonez said. "I could have gone to Ellis Park and won a lot of races, but it wouldn't have been the same. This time of year, people watch Del Mar and Saratoga. Del Mar was a good opportunity. I had nothing to lose."

O'Bryan is a third-generation agent, following his father, Craig, and his grandfather George.

Quinonez is a native of Sinaloa, Mexico, who came to the United States four years ago. He began as a hotwalker, then was a groom, and finally an exercise rider before becoming a jockey, which is why he is fairly old for an apprentice.

"My brother," he said, referring to Luis, a jockey, "said to wait. He said too many riders are green and don't get good chances. He said if I wait, I'd get more chances."

Quinonez said he has received plenty of career counseling from veteran Midwest trainer Morris Nicks, whom Quinonez calls "the boss."

"He said it's good winning with longshots," Quinonez said. "He said everybody can win with the favorite.

"After this meet, I'm going to ride at Pomona, and then Oak Tree. If I ride at Pomona, I can keep my business, and maybe pick up more business for Oak Tree."

He has his apprentice weight allowance until December.

On Monday, Del Mar's stewards gave Quinonez a three-day suspension for his ride aboard Likely a Star in the fifth race on Saturday. The suspension is scheduled to begin next Monday.

* Crossing the Line completed his preparation for the Grade 2, $400,000 Del Mar Mile on Sunday with a five-furlong work in 59.80 seconds on Polytrack on Tuesday morning. Crossing the Line got into the turf race with 114 pounds, seven fewer than the probable starting highweight, Becrux.

* Trainer Adam Kitchingman was fined $400 because his horse Capture the Cat tested positive for an excessive amount of the legal anti-inflammatory flunixin following the eighth race at Hollywood Park on June 29.