07/21/2005 11:00PM

Polytrack a distinct possibility

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Singletary, with trainer Don Chatlos, is among the leading contenders in the Eddie Read Handicap, the co-feature on Sunday's high-quality program.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Del Mar is considering installing an all-weather Polytrack surface for its 2006 meeting, pending a feasibility study and budget analysis, track vice president Craig Fravel said Friday.

Fravel said a decision will be made in October on whether to go forward on the new surface for next year.

Fravel said the project will cost between $4 million and $5 million and that finding 15,000 tons of suitable sand that can be treated with material to create the Polytrack surface is one of the biggest issues facing the project.

The Polytrack surface is made up of silica sand coated with wax, recycled rubber, and polypropylene fibers. Installation of a new course would take at least two months, Fravel said.

All-weather surfaces similar to Polytrack have been popular for wintertime racing in England for more than a decade. The surface is considered to be more forgiving than a conventional dirt track, requires less maintenance between races, and needs no water.

A Polytrack surface has been installed on Keeneland's training track and will be used for the first time this year on the main track at Turfway Park. By October, when Del Mar officials near a decision on the surface for the 2006 meeting, racing will have been conducted for a month at Turfway, allowing those at Del Mar to see how the surface reacts to racing.

Fravel has traveled to England and Kentucky in the last year to inspect all-weather surfaces at racetracks and training centers. He said the surface is easier on horses than a conventional surface.

"As you watch horses go over it, you can't see where they have traveled on it," Fravel said. "We think it will make a huge difference."

Fravel estimated that Del Mar could save as much as $500,000 annually in track maintenance costs if the Polytrack surface is installed.

Nine firsters in good maiden race

The nine-race card at Del Mar on Sunday is one of the best programs in Southern California this year.

There are two graded stakes - the $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap and $250,000 San Diego Handicap - and six allowance races.

One of the most intriguing races is the fifth race, a maiden special weight race for 2-year-olds over six furlongs that drew an oversubscribed field of 14.

There are nine first-time starters among the entries, which will be limited to 12 starters.

Trainer Bob Baffert has two starters, including Enforcement, who finished second in his debut earlier this month, and Midnight Lute, who worked five furlongs in 58.60 seconds on July 18, the fastest of 33 works at the distance.

Baffert said he was not pleased that Midnight Lute drew the rail for Sunday's race. "I was very discouraged," he said.

Baffert said that Midnight Lute could be scratched.

Enforcement finished second to Dark Nose in a maiden race over six furlongs at Hollywood Park on July 3. Enforcement rallied from fifth to finish two lengths behind Dark Nose.

"He got a good schooling," Baffert said. "Some of the horses that I started over there scrambled" to get footing.

Trainer Marcelo Polanco starts two first-time starters in El Senor Halo and Sailors Sunset, both of whom have worked well over this track. El Senor Halo worked three furlongs from the gate in 35.60 on Thursday; Sailors Sunset worked three furlongs in 34.80 on Tuesday.

"I didn't want to run at Hollywood Park since I was training at Santa Anita," Polanco said.

Polanco is expecting a win. "I don't know which one," he said.

The third race is a $65,000 optional claimer over a mile on turf. The race features the 2005 debuts of Masterpiece, a Group 1 stakes winner from Argentina last year, and Three Valleys, who finished third in the Grade 1 Citation Handicap at Hollywood in his U.S. debut last November.

Palomar possibility for Flip Flop

Flip Flop, the winner of a $72,000 allowance race over a mile on turf on Thursday, will return in a stakes later this meeting, trainer Ben Cecil said.

Ridden by Alex Solis, Flip Flop rallied from fifth to win by a half-length over House of Fortune. Flip Flop ($8.40) was timed in a quick 1:32.90.

The race marked her second win in three starts since arriving from Europe. She finished ninth in the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap in May at Hollywood Park while fighting a quarter crack, Cecil said.

"We shouldn't have run her," he said.

Cecil said Flip Flop is best in races over a mile. She may return in the $200,000 Palomar Breeders' Cup Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on turf on Sept. 3.

Racing pleads its case to politicians

Racetrack executives and members of the California Horse Racing Board were among those who implored members of the state Senate to help racing in the state remain competitive with states that have slots-enhanced purses during a formal hearing with members of the Governmental Organization Committee at Del Mar on Thursday afternoon.

The hearing, held in the simulcast facility adjacent to the track, was chaired by California state Sen. Dean Florez, who said he wanted to have similar hearings in future months.

Florez came across as both informed and sympathetic to the racing's plight.

"We want the industry to be vibrant and successful," he said.

To get there, according to representatives of the racetracks and racing board, California needs to be competitive with other states whose purses are enhanced by revenue from slots.

"It's vital to get some form of slot machine revenue to put us on a level playing field with what's going on in the rest of the country," racing board member Richard Shapiro told committee members. "Track operators are trying, but it comes down to that we need your assistance."

Craig Fravel, the executive vice president of Del Mar, stressed that California needs to move quickly.

"When New York has video lottery terminals, and has $1 million in purses per day, that's when all the predictions are going to come home to roost," Fravel said. "We have to find a way to compete with that."

- additional reporting by Jay Privman