09/07/2008 11:00PM

Pedroza off to sizzling start

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POMONA, Calif. - Unscheduled left-hand turns by two maiden fillies in the fourth race Friday, opening day of the Los Angeles County Fair meet at Fairplex Park, completely altered the complexion of the 16-day race meet.

Jockey Tyler Baze and apprentice Michael Martinez were not seriously injured when they were unseated, but both are sidelined indefinitely with body soreness. Baze is out until at least Sept. 20; his absence has the biggest impact. Baze, the third-leading rider at Del Mar, was expected to challenge Fairplex kingpin Martin Pedroza for the 2008 riding title.

Instead, Pedroza is putting on a one-man exhibition. He became the first Fairplex jockey to win seven races on a card Friday and, for good measure, he reproduced the feat Sunday by riding seven more. After three days, Pedroza had won 17 races from 32 mounts, and is on pace to break the single-season record of 51 winners that he set in 2004.

But is one jockey's dominance is too much of a good thing? When he won the 2004 title by a 51-14 margin, Pedroza and agent Richie Silverstein dominated the five-furlong oval to such an extent that the racing at the fair became almost mundane.

"I don't think that will happen this year," Silverstein said. "It is really important to build business for Oak Tree. That means I will [put Pedroza] on an inferior horse for a client. The year [Pedroza] rode 51, I alienated everybody."

One key part of an agent's job is to keep regular customers happy. Silverstein learned his lesson in 2004. Ironically, the absence of Baze makes one aspect of Silverstein's job more difficult. Pedroza is the in-demand rider at Fairplex, where he has led the standings nine straight years.

When Pedroza already has a call in a particular race, Silverstein could steer business to Baze, the sixth-leading Fairplex rider who is represented by agent Ron Ebanks. But with Baze out, Silverstein admits, "I have nobody to throw to."

Agapito Delgadillo is positioned to take advantage of the absence of Baze. He entered Monday with four wins, second in the standings. Delgadillo's agent, Rolando Hevia, has picked up scattered mounts from horses that Baze would have ridden, while Clinton Potts and Martin Garcia are expected to battle Delgadillo for the second spot in the standings.

No broken bones for Baze, Martinez

The resurgence of Baze began one year ago at the 2007 Fairplex meet when he finished only four winners behind Pedroza, 35-31. But when Baze was unseated Friday, he landed wrong.

"Tyler jammed his neck pretty good when he hit the ground head first," said his agent, Ebanks.

Baze was taken to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center after the incident; X-rays revealed no broken bones.

It was the same with Martinez, the 22-year-old apprentice who rode 6 winners from 101 mounts at Del Mar. His agent, Alex Procel Crowley, said Martinez had pain in his upper and lower back, and will be out "at least a week" and will only resume riding after being cleared by a doctor.

Garcias involved in Saturday spill

Jockeys Martin Garcia and Matt Garcia were unhurt Saturday in a spill the fourth race. Martin Garcia was riding front-running Russian Liquor when his horse fell at the top of the lane.

"I don't know why my horse fell," he said. "At first, I thought he broke down, but he didn't."

Martin Garcia returned later to win the $61,750 Phil D. Shepherd Stakes on Freesgood.

Matt Garcia also was unseated. He had minor facial lacerations and was examined and released from the Pomona Valley hospital. It has been a turbulent few weeks for Garcia, who was arrested Aug. 22 at Del Mar and charged with threatening his wife and two police officers.

Garcia said he spent a week in jail before he was bailed out, and Friday morning he met with stewards at Fairplex before riding the opening-day card. Garcia said he appears in court on Sept. 18.

First-week handle declines

Opening-week handle at the Los Angeles County Fair dropped precipitously compared to the corresponding period one year ago. After three days, Fairplex Park overall handle declined more than $2.3 million, a 10 percent drop. Handle last year on opening weekend was $22.4 million; this year was $20.1 million.

"We were brutalized Sunday by not starting later," equine manager Paul Ryneveld said. "We probably left $1 million on the table by finishing at 5 instead of 6."

Post time on weekends is noon, but when Fairplex was unable to fill any mixed-breed races, it ran 11 Thoroughbred races and ended early.

The track is taking corrective measures. First post Friday will be 1 p.m. instead of noon. Ryneveld said that when mixed-breed races are not used, first post will be later.

Fairplex is running simultaneously with the San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton this year; the tracks compete for similar types of horses. Fairplex ran only one mixed-breed race (mules and Quarter Horses) compared to six mixed-breed races the first three days of the 2007 meet. The average field size for Thoroughbred races the first three days was 7.7 starters per race.

Other possible reasons for the handle decline include the dominance of favorites, which won 19 of the first 36 thoroughbred races (53 percent).

Bai and Bai returns a winner

Early this summer, trainer Craig Dollase was unsure if multiple stakes winner Bai and Bai would ever race again. The 5-year-old mare had a severe bout of colitis and spent more than a month at the Chino Valley Equine Medical Center before she returned to training.

"Each day she got better and better, she just worked her way back," Dollase said. "Credit to the doctors at Chino Valley; she never gave us a bad day."

Sunday at Fairplex, Bai and Bai made her first start since March. Racing as the 4-5 favorite in the E.B. Johnston Stakes, she kicked away on the far turn and coasted home by 1 3/4 lengths under Aaron Gryder. Dollase said Bai and Bai will make her next start in the $150,000 California Cup Matron on Oct. 5 at Santa Anita. Bai and Bai earned an 88 Beyer Speed Figure, winning for the 10th time in 24 starts.

Afflerbaugh Stakes scrapped

The C.B. Afflerbaugh Stakes on Wednesday, a sprint for 2-year-olds, was cancelled after it drew only two entrants. The 11-race card Wednesday includes one race for Quarter Horses, followed by 10 claiming races for Thoroughbreds. Five of the 10 Thoroughbred races are maiden claimers.