11/02/2006 12:00AM

New surface places speed limit


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The launch of synthetic-track racing at Hollywood Park on Wednesday was favorably received by several of the circuit's riders, many of whom have drawn an early conclusion that the days of speed-crazy racing in Southern California may be over.

The synthetic surface, the first in California, was installed in early September and has been praised by trainers for its safety. Horses began exercising on it in mid-September. Wednesday's eight-race program, which comprised two turf races and six sprints on the synthetic surface, was the first day of racing held on the surface.

All of the winners were fourth or farther back in the field after the first quarter-mile, and made up 2 1/2 to nine lengths to win. All but one of the winners rallied wide, and all but one had a recent workout over the track. Four horses who led after a quarter-mile held on to finish third, beaten a length to 2 3/4 lengths.

Jockey Victor Espinoza won three races, two on the synthetic track - the second on Brite Red State and the eighth on Dixie Music Roll. Espinoza said on Wednesday that he drew on his recent experience of riding on Keeneland's synthetic track, which was installed earlier this year.

"The last time I went to Keeneland, I learned a lot," Espinoza said. "I had an idea on how to ride the races. If I went to the lead, I won't have a horse at the end. I have to be more patient. For me, that's the way I want to be."

Espinoza fears that horses can tire quickly on the surface. "It feels like you have no horse, but if you push a little, you're one length behind the leader. You have to wait for the end.

"I think the track will be good. The horses will feel safer. It will be better for their legs."

Jockey Jon Court had two mounts on the synthetic surface and finished second in both, losing by a neck and a nose.

"It has a real nice bounce to it," he said. "I like the way it feels underneath me. Horses are taking to it. They'll endure the performance and they'll recover quicker. It's got a trampoline-like feel to it. Some will take to it and some won't like it. For the most part, it's a friendlier surface."

The day was not without incident.

In the seventh race, Captain Squire, the millionaire multiple stakes winner,"took a bad step" according to his jockey, Alex Solis. Captain Squire was pulled up. He was not a seriously injured and was walked off.

Solis said the surface will require jockeys to be patient.

"We're so used to speed, speed," he said. "This kind of makes me happy. I think we're all learning how it will behave."