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Inability to train draws concern
ARCADIA, Calif. - The deluge of rain that led to the cancellation of racing at Santa Anita on Thursday and Friday put trainer Mel Stute's stable on the sidelines.
Stute planned to give his 16-horse stable the weekend off as Santa Anita officials deal with a drainage problem on the synthetic main track that has led to the cancellation of five racing days this month, and threatens to disrupt weekend racing.
Officials were hopeful that racing could be saved for Saturday and Sunday, and have stated that there will be no racing on Monday or next Thursday so that a four-day project to add fibers and a polymer binding to the surface can begin. Officials are banking on the additional material solving the drainage problem on the Cushion Track surface, which is a mixture of sand, rubber, and natural and synthetic fibers.
The recent rain, which began late Wednesday, has curtailed training. The infield training track has remained open, primarily for joggers and gallopers. Stute passed on sending his horses to the training track on Thursday and Friday.
"I'm walking everything," Stute said. "I'll give them a couple of days off. I'm the old-fashioned trainer. I train hard. Four or five days off won't hurt them. Most were pretty fit and running."
Stute admitted he is being cautious. When main-track training at Santa Anita was canceled in December in an attempt to fix the drainage problem, Stute sent horses to Hollywood Park for workouts. One of them, Wise Mandate, the winner of the Jack Goodman Stakes at Santa Anita in October, sustained a leg injury and had to be euthanized.
Stute said he will regroup when main-track training resumes. He said he is fortunate to have few clients phoning for updates on their horses.
"Most belong to my wife, so I don't have to do too much explaining," he said.
Some trainers are looking at the racetrack situation with increasing concern. Richard Mandella said his promising 3-year-olds Into Mischief, the winner of the CashCall Futurity on Dec. 22, and Crown of Thorns, a sharp maiden race winner on Jan. 1, are in need of workouts.
They galloped 1 1/2 miles on the training track Friday, but could be on a van to Hollywood Park if conditions do not improve at Santa Anita soon.
"Hollywood hasn't done that well in the rain, but it will come around quicker," Mandella said. "I won't hesitate to take them over there and keep them there."
Eoin Harty is equally concerned for his star 3-year-old Colonel John, who won the Real Quiet Stakes in November and was second in the CashCall Futurity.
"I worked him right before this hit and I should be okay if we can fix it," Harty said.
As for the rest of his stable, Harty is worried that they may lose fitness without main track training.
"They are farther behind and it's a frustration," he said.
John Sadler, who is tied for the lead in the trainer standings, said having horses at Hollywood and Santa Anita has helped his stable.
"For a little while, you can duck and dive it and not get behind," he said.
Sadler said the horses that he had entered for Saturday's Sunshine Millions program had their last works at Hollywood Park as a precaution.
"We've been able to get around it, but it's been difficult," he said. "You try to look long-term. It's a long year."
The cancellations could lead one small stable to leave California. Lisa Lewis, who relocated to California in November 2006 when the synthetic surface era began at Hollywood Park, said she is considering moving her eight-horse stable back to New York.
"I do still think that synthetic surfaces are the right idea," she said. "Obviously, it needs more testing."
Asked if she plans to stay in California, Lewis said, "I don't know."
Society Hostess iffy for Wishing Well
If there is racing on Sunday, there is very little chance the $75,000 Wishing Well Handicap for fillies and mares will be run on the hillside turf course. It is more likely to be run over 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track.
It was unclear on Friday whether the field would include Society Hostess, the 121-pound topweight. Trained by Christophe Clement, Society Hostess finished second in the Grade 3 Monrovia Handicap on the hillside turf course on Jan. 1, but was disqualified and placed fifth for causing interference in the stretch.
Society Hostess could stay in the race if it is switched from the turf, according to Nicholas Bachalard, who directs Clement's California horses.
"We'd run on" the main track, Bachalard said. "It would have to be fast."
The field includes Rockella, who was second in the California Cup Distance Handicap in November, and Swiss Diva, a stakes winner here in 2006.
Two eying invitations to Dubai
Barbecue Eddie, the runner-up in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap last Monday, and Well Armed, who finished second in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap on Jan. 12, are being considered for stakes in Dubai on March 29.
Barbecue Eddie is a candidate for the $2 million Golden Shaheen over six furlongs, although trainer Brian Koriner is worried that the 4-year-old may not be invited.
"I think he's run with some of the best horses and they should give him the consideration," he said.
Barbecue Eddie was beaten a neck by In Summation in the Palos Verdes over six furlongs.
Well Armed is a candidate for the $6 million Dubai World Cup over 1o1/4 miles. Harty said he plans to run Well Armed in the $250,000 San Antonio Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 3 as a likely final prep.
Harty said he was not discouraged by Well Armed's one-length loss to Zappa in the San Pasqual.
Owned by WinStar Farm, Well Armed has won 3 of 14 starts and $100,803. He won an allowance race in Dubai in 2006, when trained by Clive Brittain, and later finished unplaced in two stakes there - the UAE 2000 Guineas and the $2 million UAE Derby.
Harty said he is considering taking the 3-year-old maiden Tiz Now Tiz Then to Dubai for the $2 million UAE Derby over 1 1/8 miles. Owned by WinStar Farm, Tiz Now Tiz Then finished second to the promising On the Virg in a maiden race over 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 13.