12/12/2001 12:00AM

Owner offers sponge reward

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - An owner whose filly was scratched from a claiming race at Santa Anita on Oct. 10 after being found with a sponge in a nostril is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons involved.

Art Acosta, who owns My Sweet Lucy, is putting up the reward, according to trainer Frank Olivares. "Hopefully someone will come forward," Olivares said.

Olivares said he has no idea how the sponge was placed in My Sweet Lucy's nostril. The filly was found with a sponge on the morning of the race after undergoing an endoscopic examination. Olivares said My Sweet Lucy developed an illness from the incident, and missed a month of training. She ran third in a starter allowance race on Dec. 2.

Four horses were found with sponges at Santa Anita in early October, leading the California Horse Racing Board to increase security on racetrack backstretches. No arrests have been made in connection with the sponging incidents, according to CHRB executive director Roy Wood.

"We've had no further incidents and we're investigating the leads we have," Wood said last weekend. "We continue to ask people if they find any suspicious incidents to report it."