09/26/2002 11:00PM

O'Neill will have to do it without F J's Pace


POMONA, Calif. - Doug O'Neill is closing in on the first meet title of his training career, holding a 9-6 lead over A.C. Avila going into Friday. If he leads the Fairplex meet, O'Neill will do it without the highweight for Sunday's $50,000 Governor's Cup at 6 1/2 furlongs. Despite a facile win in the six-furlong Aprisa Handicap Sept. 18, F J's Pace won't run back in the Governor's Cup.

"He's doing super, but it's a little quick back and I don't want to get greedy," O'Neill said, adding that F J's Pace would run at the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita.

Even without F J's Pace, O'Neill still has a chance to win the Aprisa with comebacker Fly to the Lake. Though he has not raced since February, Fly to the Lake is "training really, really well," said O'Neill. Fly to the Lake, 4 for 18, raced mostly in routes before being sidelined, but O'Neill said the potential for a fast pace may flatter his rally.

As for leading the meet, O'Neill said, "Even though it's not Del Mar, Hollywood Park, or Santa Anita, it would still mean a lot."

The most impressive recent O'Neill achievement, however, has taken place off the track, at the O'Neill household. It is the envy of anyone who has cared for an infant. O'Neill and his wife, Linette, happily reported their 3-week-old son, Daniel, set a record Thursday night by sleeping uninterrupted for 4 hours and 15 minutes.

Profound Secret inherits role

The absence of 121-pound F J's Pace from the Governor's Cup means that Profound Secret will be the 119-pound highweight after winning two of his last last three starts in northern California. A field of eight entered the Governor's Cup, including Mistakenly Special, Brigade, Fly to the Lake, La Bandera, Crooked Key, McCordnskuba, and El Curioso.

Profound Secret, an 8-year-old trained by Kent Molinaro, has won eight races and $478,450 from 50 starts. In his most recent start, he scored a 1 1/2-length win Sept. 8 in the Big Jag Handicap at Bay Meadows. Joey Castro is down from northern California to ride Profound Secret.

Mistakenly Special finished second in the Sept. 18 Aprisa. Brigade was claimed in his most recent start for $32,000 by Bill Spawr. Crooked Key is a 3-year-old who comes off a third-place finish in the Foothill Stakes.

Maiden race stands out

A runaway stakes win by the 2-year-old maiden Manhattan Express on Thursday at Fairplex Park served two purposes. In winning the $50,000 Gateway to Glory Stakes by more than seven lengths, the A.C. Avila-trained Manhattan Express stamped himself as a rapidly improving colt with stakes potential at Oak Tree and Hollywood Park. Further, Manhattan Express's win validates the form of a Sept. 9 one-mile maiden race at Del Mar won by Listen Indy, who starts next weekend in the Grade 2 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita.

Manhattan Express finished third in the Del Mar maiden race, beaten five lengths by Listen Indy. On Thursday at Fairplex Park, Manhattan Express may have been dropping in class from a maiden race into a stakes. That is not a contradiction in terms.

Based on speed figures and potential class, the field for the 1 1/16-mile Gateway to Glory was weaker than the Del Mar maiden race. The Gateway to Glory favorite, Jimmy O, found the distance beyond his preference, put up little resistance to Manhattan Express, and finished a weary second, a length in front of Hair Jordan.

Pat Valenzuela, riding for the first time this year at Fairplex, gave Manhattan Express a perfect trip. Positioned alone in fourth, Valenzuela attacked three wide at the three-eighths pole. Manhattan Express swept to the lead on the far turn, and romped in 1:44.08. Manhattan Express returned $6, and was the second of three Avila-trained winners on the card. Avila also won with maiden claimers Gamblin Caper and Passionate Caper.

Scratches hit Las Madrinas

Two key scratches weakened the $100,000 Las Madrinas Handicap on Friday, reducing the field of fillies and mares to seven wagering interests. Covincing, third choice on the program at 9-2, and Spunky Gal, fourth choice at 5-1, were scratched before racing began. Covincing came down with a temperature Friday morning, according to trainer Darrell Vienna.

"We've had a couple horses get sick, and I don't want to take a chance," Vienna said. "It's too bad; we waited a long time to run in this race."

Spunky Gal's trainer, Vladimir Cerin, said Spunky Gal would be supplemented to the Lady's Secret Handicap on Wednesday at Santa Anita.

A third scratch was Land Tax, part of John Dolan-trained entry.

Pedroza leads, but gets days

Jockey Martin Pedroza held a 21-19 lead over Tyler Baze going into the Friday card, with Matt Garcia alone in third with 19 wins. Four other riders were tied for fourth with nine wins each. Pedroza is bidding for his fourth consecutive Fairplex title. He may be taking a vacation soon, however.

Pedroza was handed a three-day suspension (Oct. 2-4) for an incident in race 3 on Sept. 24. Stewards ruled Pedroza and Fab Do caused interference soon after the start of a four-furlong race, resulting in Fab Do being disqualified from victory and placed sixth.

Pick nine carryover nears six figures

One of the most unusual wagering gimmicks of the Fairplex meet is the $1 win pick nine, which typically carries over throughout the 17-day meet until mandatory payout on closing day. The carryover was $80,224 into the Friday card. Barring a winning ticket Friday or Saturday, the pick nine carryover into Sunday is expected to approach $100,000.

The carryover would fall short of the all-time high carryover of $137,699 into closing day of the 2000 meet. Ticketholders with nine winners Sunday would split the pool. If no one picks nine, the breakdown is 75 percent to tickets with the most winners, 25 percent to tickets with the next-highest number.

At the other end of the exotic-wagering spectrum is a record low exacta payoff, established in the first race Thursday. The maiden claiming race was won by 1-5 Lil Bit Devilish, and 5-1 second choice Asian Native finished second. The $1 exacta returned a whopping $2.20.

* Partly because of a two-day pick six carryover into Thursday, wagering handle continues to creep back toward 2001 levels. After 14 days of the 17-day meet, handle was down just 8 percent over last year. It is a marginal decline considering handle was down 20 percent after the first three days of the meet, and down 10 percent after the first 10 days.

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