09/10/2004 12:00AM

Nice score, but expecting more


POMONA, Calif. - While trainer A.C. Avila will focus his attention on Letra de Cambio in the $60,000 E.B. Johnston Stakes on Sunday at Fairplex Park, he remains miffed at the circumstances surrounding his final winner at Del Mar. In the first race Sept. 4, the odds dropped on the Avila-trained Que Borges from 6-1 to 4-1 during the running of the race. Avila said he wagered $1,000 on the gelding an hour before the race.

"I was happy with what I had - he was 10-1 before a late scratch, then 6-1 after the scratch," Avila said.

Que Borges made the lead, and when a $7,800 wager from a Lewiston, Maine, betting hub came in just before the gate opened, the odds took a hit. Avila said California Horse Racing Board investigators told him the bet came in eight seconds before the start of the race. A Del Mar executive last week confirmed that more than $10,000 came in on Que Borges in the seconds before the race, including the Lewiston money.

Like many others, Avila suspects something fishy is going on.

"It wasn't me, it wasn't my owner, it wasn't anybody I know," Avila said. "To make this game fair, they must close the windows [earlier]."

Avila still made a nice score, because in addition to netting $4,400 on the win end, he singled Que Borges in the pick three and used all the runners in the next two legs. The $1 pick three returned $2,583.50.

As for Letra de Cambio, Avila looks forward to running her on the five-eighth-mile Fairplex track.

"I believe she's going to love the bullring, because back in March she worked unbelievable on the [Santa Anita] training track," he said. "She took the turns really well."

Letra de Cambio worked three times on the Santa Anita training track, and hugged the turns each time - 36.60 for three furlongs, 47.60 for a half-mile, and 1:14.60 for six furlongs.

"I believe she has more ability than she's shown so far," Avila said.

Wrong payoffs posted

The Los Angeles County Fair race meet got off to a rocky start Friday, when wrong payoffs were posted on television screens for the first race. Evelyn Nelson won the race, which was for mules, and returned $4, but the televised win, place, and show payoffs were twice their actual return, and showed Evelyn Nelson returning $8 while the three show payoffs were listed at $4.20. The actual show prices were $2.10.

Jockey Martin Pedroza took aim at his sixth consecutive Fairplex riding title when he guided first-time starter Flag's Up to a front-running win in race 2, the first Thoroughbred race. Favored at 6-5 in the $20,000 maiden claiming race, Flag's Up is trained by Ted H. West. The total win pool was $49,917, including $8,453 that showed up on the tote board after the gates opened. Most of the late money comes in from out-of-state betting hubs. In the third race, $11,871 of the $61,471 win pool showed up on the board after the start of the race. The late-money flood escalated in the fourth race, when $31,805 of the total win pool of $76,705 showed up on the board after the gates opened.

Dominguez training fewer horses

It was only 10 years ago that Caesar Dominguez was one of the most active trainers during the Los Angeles County Fair. Dominguez started 46 runners at the 1993 meet, 48 in 1994, and entered 2004 tied for 10th on the all-time training list here with 53 career wins. So what are the prospects this meet for Dominguez?

"We're weak, we're regrouping," he said. "Money is tight for clients, we're buying fewer horses at sales. Last year we bought only six yearlings; we usually buy 15 to 20."

Dominguez said he has 22 horses stabled at Fairplex, including the 3-year-old filly Wind Flow, who has been sidelined since successive stakes wins last fall, races in which she earned Beyer Speed Figures of 97 and 96. Wind Flow has not raced since a five-length win last October in Anoakia Stakes at Santa Anita.

"I might run her here in the Bangles and Beads [Sept. 21]," Dominguez said.

Mullins still high on Swiss Lad

Swiss Lad was no match for Declan's Moon and Roman Ruler in the Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity, but trainer Jeff Mullins will not give up on the colt after the near-10-length defeat.

"I think he does fit with those," Mullins said, suggesting that the California-bred Swiss Lad may not have been completely fit. "He worked good, but I'm not sure he got anything out of the works, because the rider's feet were in the dashboard."

Mullins said Swiss Lad may aim for the $125,000 California Juvenile on Oct. 16 during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita. Swiss Lad, owned and bred by Ron Waranch, has won 1 of 5 starts and earned a career-high Beyer of 85 in the Futurity. Mullins has averaged nearly nine wins each of the past three Los Angeles County Fair meets, and said he has races picked out for 20 horses this meet.

* Sarah Nelson, the queen mule of California, faces her summer-long nemesis Smoking Joe in the first race Sunday at 350 yards. Sarah Nelson has crossed the wire first in five straight races, but was disqualified and placed third one start back. She has won 20 of 30 lifetime starts, and is the early even-money favorite Sunday. In addition to Smoking Joe, she faces Taz and three others.

* Old English Rancho, one of most successful breeding farms in California, will be honored Sunday in a ceremony before the race named after the farm's founder, Ellwood B. Johnston.