01/18/2008 12:00AM

Headley, Surf Cat on comeback trail

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Do not count out Surf Cat, or his trainer, Bruce Headley. Both are ready for big comebacks in 2008.

Headley, 73, is back to daily appearances at his Santa Anita stable after having a pacemaker installed late last year and fighting off a pesky cold earlier this month. The horse he considers to be the top seed in his massive stable is Surf Cat, the four-time stakes winner who starts in Monday's $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita.

Surf Cat, 6, will be seeking his first stakes win since the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park in May 2006. Plagued by injuries since that race, Surf Cat made only three starts in 2007 and was winless. Owned by Headley's wife, Aase, and Marsha Naify, Surf Cat has won 7 of 14 starts and $687,420.

"I think his career is just starting," Headley said.

Headley was speaking on the Santa Anita backstretch, between the two barns he has used as headquarters for years. This season, he is seeing the stable from a different perspective.

On doctor's orders, the native Californian is no longer a morning fixture on the stable pony, accompanying horses to and from the track. He is more likely to drive between the stable and grandstand. Headley figured he was on horseback nearly every day from 1948 until last year. Now, he watches the stable train from Clocker's Corner, a scenic patio overlooking the Santa Anita main track.

For the first time in a while, he said he is comfortable, particularly from a sore neck caused by the aftereffects of an old injury.

"I feel a little better every day," Headley said. "The main thing this pacemaker did was increase circulation to stop my neck from hurting. I was always in severe pain."

Headley has delegated some day-to-day work to his daughter, Karen. She is the first one at the barn at 4:30 a.m., followed by her father 90 minutes later.

It is still Bruce Headley's stable through and through, and his opinion of Surf Cat has not changed.

"He's still a great horse," he said.

Surf Cat has won stakes at distances ranging from 6 1/2 furlongs (the Grade 2 Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap in 2006) to 1 1/8 miles (the Grade 2 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes in 2005).

Last year, Surf Cat was second in the Grade 1 Triple Bend and Grade 2 Pat O'Brien handicaps, both at seven furlongs, and was fifth in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile in October, his only start on turf.

"I don't think he liked the turf," Headley said.

This year, Surf Cat will be tried in longer races than the Palos Verdes. Headley already has the Pacific Classic at 1 1/4 miles at Del Mar in August in the back of his mind for Surf Cat.

Surf Cat's appearance in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes at six furlongs comes a little more than a month after the horse fought off the effects of a bruised foot. Headley said Surf Cat's comeback was not helped when Santa Anita closed its main track for renovation in early December, forcing horses to exercise on the infield training track.

"He will be back," Headley said. "It may not be in this race, because I missed some training time. He can do anything. He can sprint, go a mile or a mile and a quarter. I think the Pacific Classic is a goal.

"He'll have another big season. He's bigger, strong, and better, and nothing is hurting him, and that's a plus."

Later at this meeting, Headley is eager for the return of Magnificience, a 4-year-old filly who is unbeaten in two starts. She has not started since winning the Santa Paula Stakes here last spring, a layoff caused by an ankle injury.

The stable is already having a good week.

Headley had his first win of the meeting Thursday, with Street Boss in an allowance race. Street Boss ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:01.27, equaling the track record set by In Summation in the El Conejo Handicap on Jan. 1.

Asked what he plans to do with Street Boss, Headley said, "Make more history."

The trainer's wry wit is also still intact.

Rain in next week's forecast

For the first time since three days of racing were lost earlier this month, rain is expected in Southern California early next week. But track officials are not overly concerned that bad weather will lead to further problems for the synthetic main track.

The Cushion Track surface failed to sufficiently drain when more than seven inches of rain fell earlier this month, resulting in the cancellation of racing from Jan. 5-7.

Forecasts indicate that there is a possibility of rain on Monday and Tuesday, but not a significant amount.

"It's not going to be a big affair," track superintendent Richard Tedesco said. "I can handle a small one. If we get a big deluge like we had, it's a whole new ballgame."

Santa Anita plans to close its main track for racing and training for four days in coming weeks to add polymer binding material and fibers to the surface, which consists of a mix of sand, rubber, and natural and synthetic fibers. Track officials believe the addition of such material will allow water to pass through the surface properly.

The track is tentatively planning to conduct the installation from Jan 28-31, if rain is not forecast during that span. Racing would be cancelled on Jan. 28 and 31 to conduct the installation. There is no racing scheduled on Jan. 29-30.

The material needed for the installation has begun to arrive at Santa Anita, Tedesco said.

"The faster we can get this in, the better off we'll be," he said.