10/21/2004 11:00PM

'Paz' and Katana look like future stakes horses

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Stakes careers could be lurking in the future for Paz Ciudadana and Katana, the first two finishers in a $49,200 optional claimer at Santa Anita on Thursday.

The sometimes ornery Paz Ciudadana rallied to finish a neck in front of New Zealand newcomer Katana, who was a length in front of the stakes-placed Sister Girl Blues. The race felt more like a minor stakes than an allowance.

But at times during the race, jockey David Flores wondered if Paz Ciudadana would cooperate long enough to hit the board. She was rank on the first turn and early on the backstretch, but finally settled down behind the front-running Awesome Lady.

"She was fresh," Flores said. "I was trying to get her to relax. I got her to relax at the half-mile, and then she was a little lazy."

Paz Ciudadana rallied from fourth on the final turn to finish a mile on turf in 1:35.93. The time is slower than a typical turf mile at Santa Anita, but the course was rated as good because of rain earlier in the week.

Owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt and trained by Ron McAnally, Paz Ciudadana was bred in Chile, where she made three starts, including a sixth in the 2003 Chilean 1000 Guineas.

Earlier this year, she won her U.S. debut by 2 1/2 lengths under Alex Solis on June 19 at Hollywood Park, but was fourth in an optional claimer at Del Mar on July 21. In that race, she fought for the lead to the eighth pole and then faded.

Thursday's race was the first time that she was ridden by Flores, who replaced an injured Solis. Knowing Paz Ciudadana's history, Flores realized he could not send her to the front.

"You've got keep a hold of those horses," Flores said. "If you give them daylight, they're gone."

McAnally does not have any specific goals for Paz Ciudadana, but allowance races for nonwinners of three "other than" seldom fill on a Southern California circuit that features more and more claiming races each season.

Paz Ciudadana could appear in a stakes, such as the $150,000 Dahlia Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on turf at Hollywood Park on Dec. 20.

"If we can keep her calm, she'll be a nice filly," McAnally said.

Runner-up Katana was making her U.S. debut and her first start in more than 19 months. A New Zealand-bred filly, she led by a length at the eighth pole but could not hold off Paz Ciudadana. Owned by Amerman Racing and trained by Bobby Frankel, Katana had previously run over distances ranging from 4 1/2 to seven furlongs.

Woodbine, then Lone Star for Flores

Flores will be absent from Santa Anita on Sunday to ride Crystal Castle in the Grade 2, $250,000 Nearctic Stakes at six furlongs on turf at Woodbine, near Toronto.

Through Thursday, Flores was tied for fifth in the jockey standings at the Oak Tree meeting with 10 wins, nine fewer than Corey Nakatani. Flores is not likely to finish much higher in the standings. He will travel to Lone Star Park next Friday and Saturday for Breeders' Cup weekend, meaning he will be gone for three of the final six days of the meeting.

As of Thursday, Flores had one mount for the Breeders' Cup, Singletary in the Mile. Singletary finished third in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile here on Oct. 10, his only start of the fall.

"I think he's on top of his game," Flores said.

Exercise riders seek pay hike

A group of freelance exercise riders based at Santa Anita have held a series of meetings recently to discuss ways of raising the per-mount rate from approximately $10 to $15.

Several members of the group were invited to meet with the board of directors of the California Thorough-bred Trainers this past week. On Friday, a group of about 40 riders met in a recreation hall on the Santa Anita backstretch to gather signatures on a supporting document. Reporters were barred from the meeting.

Freelance riders say the minimum rate to exercise a horse is $10, with more money available per mount for workouts or to exercise unruly horses.

The riders say that the minimum rate has not increased in more than a decade, and that it is impossible to earn a living as an exercise rider without taking a second job. Several who attended Friday's meeting work at Santa Anita in various jobs.

Some exercise riders say they receive more than $10 per mount. Others are paid a salary by trainers, regardless of the number of horses they ride each morning.

A few riders have called for a strike if their request for a higher rate is not met, but exercise rider Mike Bull, who helped direct Friday's meeting, said he was hopeful that a resolution could be reached.

"We hope to solve this without that," he said. "Everything is negotiable."

Johnny Carbajal, 42, an exercise rider who is part of the ambulance crew that follows horses during races, said some stables pay free-lance riders $15 per mount. He said a raise to that level for all riders is overdue.

"This should have been done a long time ago, in small increments," he said.

Carbajal said the per-mount figure does not account for taxes that riders are forced to pay since they are considered contract workers.

"Most of us do this because we enjoy it," he said. "This isn't enough money to live on."

During the meeting with the CTT board, the riders were advised to take up the matter with individual trainers, according to CTT executive director Ed Halpern.

Four turf stakes in final week

The Oak Tree meeting ends next Sunday. The final week of the meeting includes four turf stakes - two $75,000 races for 2-year-olds during the week, the $100,000 Morvich Handicap on the hillside on Saturday, and the $150,000 Las Palmas Handicap at 1 1/8 miles for fillies and mares on Sunday.

Hollywood Park opens its fall meeting on Nov. 3.