12/15/2003 1:00AM

Ontrack equine hospital up and running

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ALBANY, Calif. - After more than three years, the long-promised equine hospital is a reality at Golden Gate Fields.

"We have a state-of-the-art facility," said F. Jack Liebau, president and general manager of Golden Gate Fields. "I think it will be a big benefit to northern California. It was well worth the wait. We appreciate everyone's patience."

There were delays in building the hospital, which was originally slated to be part of the barn area, which sits in the Berkeley city limits. Berkeley's restrictive building codes would not allow for construction there.

A new site, located south of the grandstand in the Albany city limits, was then selected and was subject to the usual permit processes.

Northern California has been without an ontrack equine hospital for more than five years since the hospital at Bay Meadows, run by the Northern California Equine Foundation, was torn down after that track's barn area was sold.

The new hospital, with more than 3,500 square feet, was built by Magna, owner of Golden Gate Fields. The nonprofit NCEF provides the equipment. The hospital includes an induction area, examination room, radiology room for X-rays, surgery suite, recovery stall, and isolation/intensive care ward.

Three heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems have been installed to help prevent contamination. The walls and flooring are made of special materials for easy cleaning and sterilization.

The facility can easily be accessed by the horse ambulance, and the entire hospital is set up with wireless Internet capabilities for the practicing veterinarians.

Jim Ghidella, the northern California director of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, credits former trainer Dent Caton, who serves as vice president and director of NCEF, with helping the construction move along.

Caton, who has a background in biomechanics and construction, said he took charge of overseeing the project only because "the veterinarians couldn't spend the time with the construction details."

Caton said that Bill Herthel, who is in charge of construction for the equine facility at the University of California-Davis, played a key role in helping shape the plans for the building.

Caton also said the NCEF, which is still raising funds for the facility, would like to add more laboratory equipment.

Scratch or no scratch?

Favored Breakfast at T's was lucky to win Sunday's first race, and not just because she had to wait more than five minutes while judges studied her photo finish with Entrancing.

Due to miscommunication, Breakfast at T's was listed as scratched when the Sunday program was printed on Saturday. However, the scratched horse was really Flying Jackie.

Starter Chuck Burkes caught the mistake and alerted the stewards, who then checked with the racing office, program production, and mutuel department. Because the mistake was caught early enough, a new program was printed.

With the race to be simulcast nationwide, it took a cooperative effort by the mutuel department, simulcast department, and tote company to alert both Southern California and out-of-state sites of the error.

With the early alert Saturday afternoon and a follow-up Sunday morning, the race was carried by all simulcast sites.

Motel Staff tops full field in claimer

A full field of 12 runs in Wednesday's Golden Gate Fields feature, a $25,000 claimer at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. There is plenty of depth in the field, and despite drawing post 12, Motel Staff is the one to beat.

Motel Staff, a 6-year-old gelding, was claimed for $20,000 here in his last start by trainer Art Sherman. He has won two straight on the turf - first in a $6,500 starter allowance, and then for the $20,000 tag on Nov. 23.

Motel Staff won at this level last year and sports 11 wins in 28 starts. He has won 5 of 11 turf starts with three seconds and a third despite modest turf breeding.

Motel Staff has enough speed to avoid being caught too wide early and, although he is primarily a stalker, he could inherit the lead in a race that seems to be lacking in pace.