10/02/2007 11:00PM

A little show-biz glitz can't hurt

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - For those who missed it, and shame on you if you did, this week's episode of "The Bachelor" used the races at Del Mar as a backdrop for what is loosely referred to as a "date," featuring a heavily tanned and glossed harem of women all hankering to get hitched to a male model posing as a sensitive millionaire. Del Mar looked good, too.

There wasn't a whole lot of horse racing involved, beyond the fact that "The Bachelor" host Chris Harrison was one of the original team of TVG on-screen talent, which he failed to reveal. The track was used more as a backdrop for the various wily schemes and catty asides that characterize such meat-market productions. There was betting and drinking and cheering and laughing, and the astute observation from The Bachelor himself that, "You can tell a lot about a person by the way they bet." From your lips, dude.

The most dramatic moment, however, occurred when Mr. Right got a call from back home at the mansion, where the other half of the harem was waiting their turn to shine. One of them - let's call her Michelle - took a tumble on a staircase and had to be evacuated in an ambulance that clashed badly with her outfit. It was Michelle on the phone.

"She has a mild concussion," The Bachelor reported, at which point his women tried their hardest to look concerned. One of them, however, was downright skeptical.

"She has a mild concussion, and she was able to call you?"

In the background, horses ran. Later, presumably, someone explained to Cruella DeVille that a concussion is not the same as a coma, although in her case there could be cause for medical confusion. But never mind. "The Bachelor" was at least an improvement on the last time Del Mar was subjected to the world of mainstream entertainment, when a moronic horse racing episode of HBO's "Entourage" last season nearly wiped clean any positive progress made by the success of "Seabiscuit."

Like Del Mar, Santa Anita is often used as a backdrop for shows that have nothing at all to do with the game played there. "Grey's Anatomy" built a set in the parking lot. "Las Vegas" used the Chandelier Room of the turf club to recapture the sparkle of a bygone Vegas era. "Alias" has been a regular visitor, using a variety of Santa Anita settings in non-racing plots. Obviously, it helps to be located just a hop down the freeway from the major television studios.

Pete Siberell is the Santa Anita director of special projects who serves as the initial contact for productions that hope to use the track. The first thing he looks at is the script.

"In fact, I just met with someone this morning who wanted to do a script involving the FBI, fixing races, and Mafia stuff," Sibirell said Wednesday.

"It was a comedy," he added, with a straight face. "But I said it wasn't really right for Santa Anita. Try Hollywood Park or Pomona."

Siberell and Santa Anita recently green-lighted an episode of the new network drama "Pushing Daisies," which looks like yet another variation on the theme of dead things coming back to life, for one reason or another. This one has to do with solving crimes.

"This was kind of cute and quirky," Siberell said. "The actress Kristen Chenoweth plays a jockey, earlier in her life. There's a dead horse who had tried to kill off jockeys who tried to fix a race. It's going to air around Halloween, so it's kind of a horror story. Very weird."

But a comedy, right?

In some ways, horse racing was put to better use last weekend when the Little Red Feather syndicate won the last race on Saturday's stakes-packed Santa Anita program with the Argentine colt Wing Forward. One of the syndicate members is Jim Rome, host of the "The Jungle" sports show in all sorts of media and one of the most recognizable voices in broadcasting.

Rome was brought into the partnership by syndicate manager Billy Koch, who is also a member of the board of directors of the Thoroughbred Owners of California. After a whooping and hollering four-horse blanket finish to Wing Forward's race, Rome was hooked but good. Odds of 14-1 didn't hurt.

"The next day, he had me on his radio show for 10 minutes," said Koch, whose grandfather, the late movie producer Howard Koch, was a director of Hollywood Park. "And during that time he played the tape of the race three times. He played the race again yesterday, and he is calling Wing Forward, 'The most compelling athlete of all time.'

"You and I know it was just an allowance race. But this is just good for racing. Who built Del Mar? Bing Crosby. When my grandfather was going to Hollywood Park, you could go out there any weekend and see a parade of celebrities. We need to get these people back into the game, because, realistically, they attract a lot of attention, and they can say good things about it."