12/27/2010 4:15PM

New dirt track plays fast and safe on opening day

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Benoit & Associates
Twirling Candy ran seven furlongs in 1:19.70 in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, breaking Spectacular Bid’s 30-year-old track record of 1:20.

ARCADIA, Calif. – A day after two longstanding track records were broken on the debut of a newly installed sand-and-clay racetrack at Santa Anita, the horses who set the records emerged without mishap, and horsemen and track executives said they were pleased with the way the track performed.

While many trainers had expected the track to be quick, considering workout times from recent weeks, Sunday’s times on the opening day of the spring-summer meeting were surprisingly fast.

Trainer John Sadler, who was the star of the day with three stakes wins, including Grade 1 wins with Switch and Twirling Candy, said his horses were fine.

“The main thing is horses are pulling up well,” he said.

Twirling Candy ran seven furlongs in 1:19.70 in the Malibu Stakes, breaking Spectacular Bid’s 30-year-old track record of 1:20.

Sadler also is president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers and said he had not received any negative feedback on the track from colleagues Monday morning.

“It was very formful yesterday,” he said. “Everything looks good so far. We’re going forward with a brand-new track.”

The Factor, a 2-year-old maiden trained by Bob Baffert, zipped six furlongs in 1:06.98 on Sunday, breaking a 21-year-old record of 1:07.20 set by Sunny Blossom. Baffert reported Monday that The Factor was in good shape. He said the track was “pretty good” Sunday, considering Santa Anita received approximately 14 inches of rain from Dec. 17 through early Sunday morning.

“They bounced right over it,” Baffert said. “It was wet.”

Such rainfall in the last three years, when the track had a synthetic surface, may have resulted in a canceled opening day. The synthetic surface was plagued by poor drainage in wet weather, leading to the cancellation of 11 days of racing during the 2007-08 meeting, the first season with a synthetic surface, and five days of racing earlier this year.

For the sake of comparison, the track reverted to its old main-track time records, disregarding the synthetic-track era, which also produced fast times.

In Sunday’s nine-race program, no horses were vanned off with injuries.

“I’m more than happy with it being a safe day,” track president George Haines said.

The surface was greeted favorably by two leading jockeys.

“It was perfect,” Patrick Valenzuela said.

“It was fine,” Victor Espinoza said. “They got over it pretty good.”

On Monday, there were 176 recorded works on the main track, but some trainers took a cautious approach on Sunday and Monday.

After The Factor broke the six-furlong record, trainer Eric Kruljac decided to scratch the three-time stakes winner La Nez from the La Brea Stakes. He said Monday that she will start in the Monrovia Stakes on Sunday or the Kalookan Queen Handicap on Jan. 7.

“They did a good job keeping the track raceable,” Kruljac said. “But you’ve got to weigh all the factors. It wasn’t in her best interest.”

Early Monday, trainer Jim Cassidy exercised his first set of horses on the main track and then switched the rest to the infield training track for the rest of the morning.

“After the first set, the exercise riders said it was too hard,” Cassidy said. “The times got a little ridiculous” on Sunday.

Track superintendent Richard Tedesco said the surface retained moisture through Sunday, which led to quick times. Track maintenance crews worked the surface after training on Sunday morning, scraping off several inches of material and harrowing the remaining layers.

Tedesco expects times to be slower with drier weather.

“The amount of moisture [in the track] is keeping the speed up,” he said. “I think it will be slower. Everyone I’ve talked to, they’re saying their horses are fine.”

Still, Tedesco is advising some trainers that an expected inch of rain early Wednesday may leave the track closed for training that morning.

Haines said he was glad no horses were injured on Sunday.

“It’s a good feeling,’ he said. “We knew we were being watched by the world.”

Sadler misses big day at track

Sadler was not in attendance for Sunday’s program because of a knee infection that left him watching races on the sofa.

Aside from Twirling Candy’s win in the Malibu, his stable won the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies with Switch and the $150,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-olds over a mile with Sidney’s Candy.

All three will run again at the meeting, though Sidney’s Candy and Twirling Candy are being considered for stakes in Dubai in March. More immediately, Sadler said that Switch may return in the $250,000 Santa Monica Stakes on Jan. 30, Twirling Candy is a candidate for the $200,000 Strub Stakes on Feb. 5, and Sidney’s Candy has the $300,000 Frank Kilroe Mile on turf on March 5 as a long-term goal.

Regarding Dubai, Twirling Candy could be a candidate for the $10 million Dubai World Cup, while Sidney’s Candy could run in the Godolphin Mile or $5 million Dubai Duty Free on turf.

Sadler downplayed Twirling Candy’s final time.

“It means he’s a good horse,” Sadler said “Whether the track remains fast, we’ll see over time. Spectacular Bid ran on a different surface. They’re all unique.”

Spending the day at home, and missing three trips to the winner’s circle, was not ideal, he said.

“You can enjoy it a different kind of way,” he said. “You want to be there.”