01/23/2008 12:00AM

Hopefully, track will hold up in rain


ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita officials were cautiously optimistic on Wednesday that several days of rain predicted through the weekend will not disrupt racing on the synthetic main track.

The track failed to properly drain earlier this month, leading to the cancellation of three days of racing from Jan. 5-7.

The wet weather threatens the first big racing day of 2008, Saturday's nationally televised Sunshine Millions program of four stakes for California-breds and Florida-breds. While the sun may not make an appearance on Saturday, track officials are hoping that rain does not wreak havoc.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed," said track superintendent Richard Tedesco.

Track president Ron Charles said Santa Anita has banked heavily on having a successful day on Saturday. "It's an incredible day of promotion," he said.

Approximately two inches of rain was expected from Wednesday until the weekend, according to Tedesco. Earlier this month, about seven inches of rain over a four-day period led to the cancellation of racing when the Cushion Track synthetic surface failed to drainproperly.

Tedesco said he planned to seal the racetrack, or compact it, after training hours to force rainwater to flow off the track. He cautioned that the process may not work ideally.

"I'll seal it like a dirt track, but that doesn't tighten it up like dirt," he said. "We're going to get hit pretty good. We may get a couple of inches out of this."

More than a quarter-inch of rain fell at Santa Anita from Monday night into Tuesday, resulting in a limited number of main-track workouts on Tuesday. The track was open on Wednesday morning, with considerably more activity.

Tedesco said rain would likely lead to the cancellation of morning training on the main track this week.

"If it's raining, I won't open the track for training," he said. "I've got to keep it closed to protect racing. I've got to keep it as safe as I can."

Charles said he was hopeful that no racing would be lost. "We can get a better seal on it than in the previous deluge," Charles said. Asked if that would be adequate, he said, "We won't know for sure."

The Cushion Track - a mix of sand, rubber, and natural and synthetic fibers - was installed last summer, but was plagued by drainage problems as far back as late September.

Track officials hope that an upcoming four-day maintenance project will eliminate concern about drainage in wet weather. A fiber and polymer binder will eventually be added to the track. The addition of the material was suggested by Ian Pearse, the founder of the Pro-Ride synthetic surface in Australia. There is a possibility the project could start on Monday, leading to the cancellation of racing on Monday and Thursday, but nothing had been finalized as of Wednesday.

Tedesco said that when the project begins, work will be conducted 24 hours a day in an effort to finish in four days.

Midnight Lute's 2008 debut pushed back again

Midnight Lute, the champion sprinter of 2007, will not make his 2008 debut until April, trainer Bob Baffert said. It is the second time in the last week that Baffert has postponed Midnight Lute's first start of the year.

Baffert had considered the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap last Monday at Santa Anita, but said last week that he wanted to wait for the $150,000 San Carlos Handicap at seven furlongs on Feb. 16.

On Wednesday, Baffert backed away from the San Carlos, saying that he wants to point Midnight Lute to races such as the $300,000 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 5, and the Churchill Downs Handicap on the Kentucky Derby undercard on May 3.

The decision was made after Baffert talked with the partnership that owns the horse following Monday's Eclipse Award ceremony.

Plesa attacks Classic with speed and a closer

Florida trainer Edward Plesa may have the perfect team for Saturday's $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic. Gottcha Gold will race near the front, while Electrify is a major threat from off the pace.

It could add up to a memorable result for Plesa in the 1 1/8-mile race.

"They kind of complement each other," Plesa said. "They won't get in each other's way."

The 5-year-old Electrify has won three of his last four starts since early September, including the Grade 3 Fred Hooper Handicap at 1o1/8 miles at Calder on Dec. 15. There is a simple reason for the success, Plesa said.

"Before his break when we set him to the farm, they castrated him," Plesa said. "He's really gone forward."

Gottcha Gold, a 5-year-old, won two Grade 3 handicaps at Monmouth Park during the summer - the Salvatore Mile and Iselin - and was second in the newly created Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile on a sloppy track there in October. In each race, he set the pace.

Both Electrify and Gottcha Gold will be making their first start on a synthetic track in the Classic. The new surface and the potential wet weather worry Plesa.

"From what we're reading about it, there is concern," he said. "There is no question about it. Hopefully, it will be serviceable and in good shape. I hope there is no rain."

Plesa's starters face a tough field, especially from the Florida-bred contingent, which includes Go Between, the winner of the Grade 3 Fayette Stakes at Keeneland last October, and Going Ballistic, the winner of the Grade 3 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs in September.

The California-breds include Bold Chieftain and Celtic Dreamin, the first two finishers of the California Cup Classic in November, and McCann's Mojave, who won the 2007 Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park and has since won the Grade 3 All American Handicap at Golden Gate Fields.

Bold Chieftain finished sixth in the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park in December, a race that trainer Bill Morey is ready to dismiss. Bold Chieftain broke from the outside in a field of 10, and led in the stretch before fading through the final furlong.

"We had a bad post," Morey said. "The horse never relaxed. I'm worried about the mile and an eighth, but for $1 million, what do you do?"