06/29/2001 11:00PM

Missing flags delay race; horse, riders hurt

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PLEASANTON, Calif. - Two jockeys and a 2-year-old colt suffered minor injuries in a gate incident at the Alameda County Fair meeting here Friday after a race was delayed by a missing United States flag.

Jockeys Jason Lumpkins and Joey Castro, both thrown off their mounts at the gate before the fourth race, were expected to ride Saturday. The colt, Woodfield, who was scratched at the gate after throwing Castro, apparently suffered only superficial injuries to his hock and head, according to trainer Art Sherman.

According to one of the stewards here, Will Meyers, California state law requires both the U.S. flag and the state flag to be flown at any racetrack where a race meeting is being conducted. Before the third race, a patron told a stewards' aide that the flags were not up. The stewards ordered them put up, but by post time for the fourth race there still were no flags.

The stewards delayed the start of the race while waiting for the flags. After about four minutes, still with no flags, the stewards ordered the race run.

At that point, however, odds-on favorite Western Sun threw jockey Russell Baze and ran off, delaying the start again. He was caught and taken back to the gate, but ran off again and was scratched. Then, after the horses finally loaded, Woodfield reared up in the gate, tossing Castro and frightening Optic Diversion, who reared up and tossed Lumpkins. Woodfield was scratched. Castro suffered a sprained ankle and Lumpkins a sprained hand.

Baze replaced Lumpkins on Optic Diversion and won the race. Only five horses ran, causing the cancellation of trifecta and show wagering.

Later in the day, management put up an American flag but no state flag.

Sherman, Woodfield's trainer, was angry that the race had been delayed because no flags were flying, calling the decision "a very poor judgment call."

"These were 2-year-olds, and most of them were first-time starters," he said. "Two jockeys got hurt and my horse got hurt. All for nothing."

Sherman filed a formal protest of the stewards' actions with the California Horse Racing Board.

Apparently, the flags had not flown during the previous two days of the meeting, but no one in authority had noticed. "I should have noticed it before," Meyers said. "The stewards are supposed to uphold the law. I'll take responsibility for that."

Rick Pickering, general manager of the fair, said there had been many staff changes since the end of the last meeting and that the flag issue "slipped through the cracks."