03/09/2005 1:00AM

Injury forces Salt Champ to retire

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Sweet Catomine, with Corey Nakatani up, goes a half-mile in 48 seconds Wednesday at Santa Anita in her final major exercise for Sunday's Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Salt Champ, the winner of the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap in her U.S. debut Jan. 30, has been retired after suffering a tendon injury earlier this week, trainer Richard Mandella said.

The injury came just days before Salt Champ would have been a top contender for Saturday's $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita. The injury was detected Tuesday, a day after Salt Champ worked five furlongs in 59.60 seconds at Santa Anita.

Trainer Richard Mandella described the injury as a "strained tendon."

, 5, could return to racing after a lengthy break, according to Mandella, but he said that her four Grade 1 or Group 1 stakes wins and the severity of the injury made retirement a logical option.

"It's possible, but she's done enough," Mandella said. "It's in a bad spot. It's right behind the ankle, too dangerous to fool with."

An Argentine-bred owned by Arturo Vargas, Salt Champ won 5 of 8 starts and $217,541. She won three stakes in 2003, including the Argentine 1000 Guineas. She made one start in 2004, winning a Group 1 race over about a mile on dirt in Argentina in April. Later in the year, she was transferred to Mandella.

In the Santa Monica Handicap over seven furlongs, Salt Champ rallied from last in a field of nine to win by a length over Island Fashion.

House of Fortune a possibility

The absence of Salt Champ denies the Grade 1 Santa Margarita a leading contender and could lead trainer Ron McAnally to start House of Fortune.

As of Wednesday, the Grade 1 Santa Margarita had seven probable starters: Miss Loren, the 118-pound topweight, A.P. Adventure, Dream of Summer, Good Student, Sweet Lips, Tarlow, and Uraib.

Hollywood Story, who was third in the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap on Feb. 13, will not start because of a minor injury, trainer John Shirreffs said.

"She's jogging," he said. "It's not like she's absolutely out of training."

The race will mark Miss Loren's first start for Mandella. The winner of the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap by a nose over Good Student on Feb. 13, Miss Loren was recently acquired by Ernie Moody's Mercedes Stable. Moody co-owns Rock Hard Ten, the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap last Saturday.

House of Fortune has been assigned 113 pounds, the lowest of the probable starters. She finished eighth in the Sunshine Millions Distaff at Santa Anita on Jan. 29 after clipping heels in the first turn of the 1 1/16 mile race.

Ron McAnally said the February rain in Southern California significantly disrupted House of Fortune's training schedule.

"She hasn't run in awhile and we need a few works," McAnally said.

He said that House of Fortune could be sent to the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 9 if she does not start in the Santa Margarita.

Sweet Catomine 'super' in final prep

Sweet Catomine, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2004, worked a half-mile in 48 seconds Wednesday, a workout that trainer Julio Canani described as "super."

The workout was Sweet Catomine's final major exercise before Sunday's $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks.

Canani caught Sweet Catomine through a final furlong in 11.80 seconds.

"She did it by herself, with no horses in front of her," he said.

Sweet Catomine will not have many opponents when she tries for her fifth straight stakes win in the Grade 1 Oaks, run over 1 1/16 miles.

The field is expected to include Cream Donut Keith, Guaranteed Victory, and Memorette. The race drew only 10 nominations.

Owned by Marty and Pam Wygod, Sweet Catomine won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last year. In her lone start this year, she won the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes here in January.

Trainers meet to discuss jockey weights

Voicing their displeasure at proposed legislation and a proposed California Horse Racing Board rule change that would raise the minimum weight that jockeys carry in races, a group of approximately 40 trainers met for 90 minutes at Santa Anita on Wednesday.

According to Ed Halpern, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, the trainers discussed provisions of Assembly Bill 1180, which has not been introduced, and the CHRB rule change, which is currently in the public comment period.

Last month, racing officials and horsemen told the CHRB that they were opposed to the racing board raising the minimum weight that horses carry in Thoroughbred races in California from 112 to 116 pounds. The CHRB approved the rule change at its February meeting and it will be addressed again by the CHRB in April, after the public comment period.

At that meeting, the CTT will present a counter-proposal to leave the weights at current levels, Halpern said.

He cited changes made by racing secretaries in Southern California in recent months that have increased weights carried by horses as being sufficient. Even though horses can carry 112 pounds, racing secretaries are using a minimum weight of 115 pounds.

Another difference between the CHRB rule change and the current practice is that current weight assignments include clothes and saddle, but does not penalize jockeys for safety equipment. The CHRB proposal does not penalize jockeys for carrying 27 pieces of equipment ranging from clothes to saddles to safety equipment. The difference is approximately five pounds above a current published weight assignment.

The CHRB rule change is intended to address longstanding health concerns among jockeys, who ride at far below their natural weights.

Halpern said the CHRB rule change will increase actual weights into the 130- to 140-pound range, which he said will drive horses out of California.

At Wednesday's meeting, he said trainers were "united that we have to let the CHRB and the legislature know that this is a major issue that will basically destroy racing in California," Halpern said. "They feel people will leave California.

"We believe what they are asking for is too much. Trainers are very angry."

Jockeys' Guild officials argued before the CHRB last month that reducing weight put jockeys' long-term health at risk.