11/10/2006 1:00AM

Meeting focuses on Polytrack


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine's racing department held an open forum here late Friday morning and approximately 150 horsepeople took the time to show up at the sales pavilion.

While the agenda was open, the only subject discussed was the state of Polytrack, which has become a source of concern for both management and horsemen.

"We know we have a serious problem," Jamie Martin, Woodbine's senior vice president of racing, told the congregation. "We're addressing it as best we can, with maintenance procedures."

The problem with Polytrack has been kickback, caused by a separation of the Polytrack components during a recent stretch of colder weather. Brian Jabelman, Woodbine's director of racing surfaces, explained that the colder weather has been preventing the wax in the surface from fulfilling its function of holding the material together when the temperatures dropped.

"The fiber has been coming through the top," said Jabelman. "We're trying to break it down, mix it back into the surface. Adding water has helped."

Ray Sabourin, president of the Jockeys Benefit Association of Canada, was one of several riders present at Friday's meeting.

"It's a high kickback," said Sabourin. "It's nothing like we haven't dealt with, with the dirt - it hurts. The track's still safe; it just doesn't seem to be as good as everybody thought it was going to be."

Management and horsemen agreed that the amount of traffic on the Polytrack surface has exacerbated the problem. Woodbine will attempt to ease that situation by extending the training track season by two weeks, to Nov. 26.

Another immediate result of Friday's session has been a change of shoeing policy for Polytrack racing and training. Only flat shoes have been permitted, but, effective Saturday, Nov. 11, toe grabs up to a quarter of an inch will be allowed.

Several trainers at the meeting, including Bob Tiller and Roger Attfield, had spearheaded the move for the change in shoe policy.

Tiller and Attfield, who both have had several horses suffer injuries while training or racing on Polytrack, argued that the use of toe grabs could help some horses get a better grip on the surface and improve the safety factor.

Martin Collins, the Polytrack pioneer who oversaw the installation of the material here, is expected to be back in town early this week to assess the situation.

Woodbine purchased the Polytrack from Martin Collins Surfaces and Footings, a joint venture of Keeneland and Martin Collins International.

Sugar Swirl back in Jammed Lovely

Sugar Swirl seemed destined to be a prominent player in her division this season after winning the Princess Elizabeth Stakes and $210,437 here as a 2-year-old.

Instead, Sugar Swirl did not get back to the races until mid-August and will be making just her third start of 2006 when she runs here in Sunday's $150,000 Jammed Lovely.

Sugar Swirl, owned by Stronach Stable and trained in New York this year by Bobby Frankel, arrived here Wednesday and will be saddled by Brian Lynch for the Jammed Lovely, a seven-furlong race for Ontario-foaled 3-year-old fillies.

"She was in California this winter and had a little setback," said Lynch, who trains Stronach's main division here. "It wasn't anything major, but it put her on the shelf."

Sugar Swirl returned with a smart second-level allowance score at seven furlongs at Saratoga on Aug. 16, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 90.

In her only subsequent outing, which came at one mile on grass in Belmont's Pebbles Stakes on Oct. 9, Sugar Swirl forced the pace early but weakened to finish last of seven.

"She obviously didn't take to the grass," said Lynch. "Bobby's been really happy with her. She's training really well."

New owners may have a good one

It took a while for Lee Paige and George Piva to take the plunge into horse ownership, but it didn't take nearly as long for them to enjoy the upside. Paige the General, a 2-year-old gelding, won his debut here Oct.o21 and is heading for Wednesday night's $125,000 Frost King, a seven-furlong stakes for Ontario-sired


Paige and Piva's introduction to the racing game came through a longtime friend, Nick Coukos, who is the executive director of the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and whose wife, Lynn Coukos, is a third partner in the ownership of Paige the General.

"For years, they'd told me you've got to be crazy to buy a horse," said Nick Coukos. "Then they had a good night at the casino and asked me to get them a horse."

The horse, purchased for $8,500 at the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society's December mixed sale, was named Paige the General and was turned over to trainer John Charalambous.

In his first start, which came in a six-furlong maiden special, Paige the General raced on the pace and drew off to a 4 1/4-length victory under jockey Steven Bahen, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 74.

"We were all very high on him," said Nick Coukos. "We think he's a good horse."

Paige the General has a 4-year-old half-brother, Soul Rebel, who has won 5 of 6 starts over his first two campaigns. An Ontario-sired homebred gelding who races for the Kingview Farm of Richard Day, Soul Rebel suffered his only defeat in his turf debut here Sept. 30, but he rebounded with a game win in a second-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 22.

Soul Rebel, also trained by Charalambous, worked six furlongs in 1:15.60 here Thursday while going in company with Paige the General.

Soul Rebel is nominated to next Sunday's Grade 3, $150,000 Woodbine Slots Cup at 1 1/16 miles, which is coming up extremely tough.

* True Metropolitan, a multiple stakes winner in British Columbia and Alberta this year, breezed five furlongs in 1:02 here Friday morning in preparation for the Slots Cup. Trained at his Hastings home base by Terry Jordan, True Metropolitan is being handled here by Lorne Richards.