12/27/2005 12:00AM

Malibu biggest win yet for whole gang


ARCADIA, Calif. - David Cohen and Proud Tower Too arrived in the winner's circle after Monday's Grade 1, $250,000 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita well prepared for an important photo.

Cohen's silks, boots, and breeches were so clean that he looked like a jockey going to post instead of one coming back from a win.

What better way to celebrate a Grade 1 win than to have a sharp look in the winner's circle? "I think the color man owes me a few dollars. He won't have to clean these," Cohen said, tugging at his green and white silks.

Dismissed at 20-1, Proud Tower Too led throughout the Malibu to score his first Grade 1 win. It was also the first Grade 1 win for his connections - Cohen, Daniel Cardenas's Tricar Stables, and trainer Sal Gonzalez, 52.

"It feels awesome," said Cohen, 21, who won his first race at Del Mar in 2004.

The milestone of his first Grade 1 victory did not hit Cohen until after the race. He was too busy during the stretch run, keeping Proud Tower Too from lugging in, to launch a premature celebration.

"I got to take a peek at the TV screen, and I got a little more comfortable," he said. "You try to stay composed, but you want to let a lot out."

Cohen said he knew he needed to be near the front with Proud Tower Too. The colt, who was making his first start in a graded stakes, has led in all four of his wins this year. The first three wins were against California-breds.

"He needs to be up there," Cohen said.

Proud Tower Too finished seven furlongs in 1:21.62, winning by a length. A winner of 5 of 16 starts and $349,014, Proud Tower Too held off a late run from Attila's Storm, the 5-2 favorite who was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in October and won the Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct in November. Thor's Echo finished third in the field of 14 3-year-olds.

The disappointment was Wilko, the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner. He broke well, but raced well off the pace before finishing 11th.

Cohen has reached several milestones this fall. In addition to winning his first stakes, which came at Turf Paradise earlier this year, Cohen won his first stakes in California when Courtly Jazz pulled an upset in the Ralph Hinds Pomona Invitational at Fairplex Park in late September.

Proud Tower Too gave Cohen his first stakes win at Hollywood Park in the On Trust Handicap over 7 1/2 furlongs on Dec. 4. Monday's race was Cohen's first stakes win at Santa Anita.

"Hopefully, there'll be many more," he said.

Opening-day handle highest ever

Monday handle of $19,004,624 was a record for opening day. The figure includes ontrack handle, as well as handle on the track's races at simulcast locations, and represents a gain of 20.5 percent over 2004.

The previous record of $18,665,298 was set in 1998.

The ontrack handle of $5,880,998 was up 12.5 percent over last year.

The track drew an ontrack crowd of 34,590, a gain of 8 percent over the opening day in 2004. Monday's ontrack crowd was the largest since 1999, when 44,018 attended.

Track president Ron Charles said he thought attendance could have been stronger without a morning of gray skies and light sprinkles. During the afternoon, the weather cleared to partly cloudy.

"We got the message out that we were back racing," he said. "We overcame obstacles of a lot of people staying home because of rain. We had a great racing card."

One drawback was terribly long lines for food service and at mutuel windows, which Charles said would be addressed.

"We need to find a way when we have days like this to take better care of the fans," he said. "We'll have meetings about it."

Two-turn race next for Cindago

Cindago, a 2-year-old, will make his next start around two turns after impressively beating maidens in Monday's sixth race.

Cindago ($3.60) was always near the front, finishing 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.57. He passed pacesetter Mister Triester in early stretch, gave up the lead to the first-time starter Latent Heat before the eighth pole, but rallied in the final sixteenth to win by a half-length.

Purchased for $900,000 at the Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds in training earlier this year by CRK Stables, Cindago made his second start on Monday. He was second in a maiden race here on Nov. 5.

Trainer John Sadler said he would prefer to run Cindago in an allowance race rather than a stakes in his first start against winners.

"I want to go long in his next start, maybe a mile in an allowance race," he said.

Taking notes on England's Polytrack

Hollywood Park officials spent time in England in mid-December touring that country's Polytrack surfaces in an effort to better understand the synthetic surface, which could be installed at California tracks.

But the installation of a Polytrack surface at Hollywood Park is far from a certainty.

According to Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau, management has yet to decide whether the surface can be installed.

Because Hollywood Park is expected to close within three years unless the state's racetracks acquire slot machine revenue, Liebau said there is an urgency surrounding the decision.

The earliest that Hollywood Park could install such a surface would be in late July, at the conclusion of the spring-summer meeting.

"It's make or break this summer," he said. "We don't know what the cost is."

Liebau said engineering studies are underway at Hollywood Park regarding the feasibility of a Polytrack surface. He said the cost, which has been estimated at $8 million, is a major factor, along with finding the needed sand material.

"We're still in the process of finding a sufficient quantity of acceptable sand," he said.

Before Christmas, Liebau and other officials visited Lingfield and Wolverhampton racecourses in England, which specialize in racing on the all-weather Polytrack surface; Kempton Park, which is adding a Polytrack to its facility; and Newmarket, where a Polytrack training surface is in use.

"I learned a lot as far as the overall installation of the track differs from place to place," Liebau said.

In the United States, Turfway Park is the only course to race on Polytrack, but several tracks, including Del Mar, are considering installing the surface.

"The consensus is Polytracks are kinder to the horses," Liebau said. "Everybody is very complimentary as far as the surfaces cutting down the injuries."

* There was a single winning ticket in Monday's pick six, which returned $260,046.60. Track officials said the ticket was purchased at Santa Anita. Proud Tower Too was the longest price. The other winners of the pick six races were Fletchers Cove ($28.40), Charmo ($6.20), Cindago ($3.60), Tedo ($12.80), and Austin Barber ($20).