Updated on 09/17/2011 9:51PM

Heavy favorite provided too close a call


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Sunday was an interesting wagering day at Bay Meadows, most of it centered around So Long Birdie in the fifth race.

Trainer Craig Dollase found what looked like a perfect spot for the 3-year-old colt, who is a half-brother to champion filly Bird Town and 2004 Belmont winner Birdstone and nominated to the Triple Crown.

Because he ran - and was claimed - in a $40,000 maiden claiming race in his debut, So Long Birdie was eligible for the one-mile $40,000 starter allowance race even though he had only missed by a nose in the $104,000 San Miguel Stakes at Santa Anita and came back with a strong third in a one-mile allowance race at Santa Anita.

By all handicapping measures, So Long Birdie looked like a sure thing, but Sunday he was being asked to run on a deep, muddy track for the first time. Despite a Tomlinson number that hinted he should relish the off going, the track condition alone should have bred some caution in wagering.

Instead, So Long Birdie was hammered like a sure thing. He was 1-10 to win, and of the $705,421 in the show pool, $665,013 was bet on him, creating a $121,979 minus show pool.

So Long Birdie made things exciting. First, he refused to load, and jockey Russell Baze had to dismount before the colt could finally be put in the starting gate. He was fractious in the gate and, undoubtedly because of the delay, several others horses acted up a bit before the gates opened.

The race itself was one of those affairs where you weren't sure whether to be pleased or disappointed.

So Long Birdie was fourth early but moved into third down the backstretch. He rallied three wide on the second turn and stuck his head in front coming into the lane, looking like the sure thing bettors envisioned, but he couldn't get by the pacesetting Totalitarian.

So Long Birdie was a half-length in front at the end of the one-mile race, but it wasn't exactly the victory those who cashed their $2.20 winning tickets expected. He seemed quite tired after the race and may need time to recover from an effort that was harder than expected.

"I've had a lot that acted up going into the gate," said Baze. "That's not the most unusual thing."

Baze said he knew So Long Birdie was a favorite but was a bit surprised by how heavily he was favored.

"Being a deep, muddy track, some don't handle the surface all that well," he said. "I was really glad to see he had stickers on. It wasn't as cut and dried as it looked on paper."

At the top of the lane, So Long Birdie looked as if he would have everything his way, but Baze said he wasn't confident.

"That little horse inside us was digging in," he said. "If my horse had faltered at all, the photo would have gone the other way."

Baze said that, taking everything into consideration, the race wasn't that bad.

"I think he's a better horse than he looked, but I'd say that was a function of a deep, muddy track," he said.

Dollase said that with all the wagering, "It was an exciting day. He showed a lot of courage and heart to get the win."

The bulk of the show wagering in the huge pool came from the New York Racing Association, with $333,484 bet. Another $91,995 came from ExpressBet, $43,745 from Penn National, and $32,026 from Philadelphia Park. Only $7,922 was bet at Bay Meadows and the northern California satellite network, meaning only $1,370 of the minus show pool was paid off locally.

Seftel pleased with weights ruling

Dr. David Seftel, the track physician for Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields, was pleased with last week's California Horse Racing Board decision on jockeys' weight. The ruling, which faces public discussion before final approval, sets minimum jockey weights at 116 pounds with equipment added to that.

Seftel had been aiding the Jockeys' Guild with research on weight and nutrition issues and called the decision the "best compromise," although he would have preferred the minimum to be set two pounds higher.

"Now racing is in compliance with the American College of Sports Medicine's standards for other athletes," he said. "Riders will now be physically and mentally fitter and safer. I think we've had some accidents because jockeys were physically and mentally below par. Accidents have been worse because malnourished bones are weak bones."

Platinum Princess favored in sprint

Female sprinters are in the spotlight Wednesday and this weekend. Wednesday's feature is an $80,000 optional claimer at six furlongs. Saturday's stakes is the $55,000-added Soviet Problem, also at six furlongs.

Platinum Princess was nominated to the Soviet Problem but will run in Wednesday's race.

Platinum Princess won her comeback at Golden Gate Fields on Jan. 9, then got a nightmare trip in the Grade 1 Santa Monica. She will be the one to beat from an outside post in a field of five in Wednesday's feature.

Comebacking Heavenly Humor looks like the one to beat in what should be a short field in the Soviet Problem.