12/31/2004 1:00AM

Rain slowing meeting to a crawl


ARCADIA, Calif. - Rain, rain, go away.

That's the sentiment at Santa Anita, where steady, persistent rain has interrupted training schedules and disrupted what track management believed would be a strong start to the meeting.

Another storm settled over Santa Anita Friday morning, and though it cleared out by the first race, the next storm was expected to arrive by Sunday, with more forecast for next week. Steve Wood, Santa Anita's track superintendent, sought shelter under an awning near a food stand at Clocker's Corner and, while juggling his bacon-and-eggs breakfast and the incessant ring of his cell phone, lamented the wet weather.

"We had five inches on Monday and Tuesday, and we're now approaching 7 1/2 or eight inches for the week. We've had another half-inch from noon yesterday until now," Wood said at 8 a.m. Friday, "and before noon, we should be at three-quarters of an inch.

"This is crazy. We usually get 14 inches for the whole season. There's a slight chance of showers for Saturday, but there's more that's supposed to arrive between 2 and 5 Sunday afternoon. And then it's supposed to rain for three days."

Juggling races

The rain forced the two grass races scheduled for Friday, the second race and the featured Monrovia Handicap, onto the main track. Of the 16 older fillies and mares entered in the 6 1/2-furlong Monrovia, seven were scratched, including morning-line favorite Belleski, who is 5 for 5 in the hillside turf course.

There were two turf races scheduled for Saturday, including the San Gabriel Handicap. But as of scratch time Friday morning, both were still on the turf. Two more turf races were scheduled for Sunday in the hope a respite from the rain would allow the first grass races since Monday.

"Some guys are taking advantage of it and entering for dirt only, hoping it comes off the turf," said Rick Hammerle, Santa Anita's racing secretary. "Guys are picking up spots if they know the races are light. They're using these spots to get a check."

Big fields - once it's dry

Hammerle puts out the condition book, a bi-weekly publication that lists scheduled races for each day and that trainers consult in order to prepare their horses accordingly. The rain has brought out Hammerle's creativity. In addition to the eight or nine races in the condition book, he has been adding as many as six extra races on the overnight sheet, hoping he can garner eight or nine decent-sized fields from the 14 or 15 eligible races. He managed to put a card together for Sunday with the nine original races in the condition book, but he had a contingency plan.

"I had six for Sunday," he said. "That's not a terrible amount. It's not that many, under the circumstances. You throw some extras on that might have been in the next condition book. You use them now. You have to get by.

"The book is already out. You have to hope the horses were trained enough before the rain, and, whether it's turf or dirt, their trainers will go for it. Everybody's been real cooperative and understanding. There's nothing you can do about it. When the rain does end, we'll have lots of horses out there looking to run, especially on the turf. You had the end of the Hollywood meet, when they couldn't race on the grass, and then a break here after the first two days."

Trainer Barry Abrams, who popped into Hammerle's office Friday, joked that Hammerle could schedule a turf festival once the rain ends.

"We will live through it," Hammerle said. "I'm from out here, and I've never before seen a two-week forecast that basically calls for rain every day.

"It's a shame. We had so many horses ready to run. We would be flying. But we'll recover."

Main track closed for training

In an effort to protect the main track for the afternoon's races, horses working out or galloping have been restricted to the training track in recent mornings. Only horses jogging the wrong way were permitted on the main track, and they were confined to the outside fence. Orange cones, or dogs, protected the inner portion of the track.

A mere 16 horses had workouts on the muddy training track Friday. Then, just prior to the first race, the 3-year-old filly Tizakitty - who was scratched from Monday's La Brea Stakes - was permitted to work on the sloppy main track. She was timed in 37.20 seconds for trainer Bob Hess Jr.

Sweet Catomine, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in her last start, was scheduled to work Friday in preparation for next week's Santa Ysabel Stakes, but trainer Julio Canani decided against it because of the conditions. "I'm not doing nothing," he said as he walked briskly through the rain. "Happy new year."

Ted West, who trains a string of horses with his son, Ted H., said the off tracks had yet to significantly impact the training of his horses, including Bluesthestandard and Revello, who are entered in Sunday's El Conejo Handicap.

"I'm kind of a believer that you get fit galloping, and you use works for sharpness," West said. "In this weather, I mostly feel sorry for the grooms. They have to pick through all those muddy manes and tails."

* Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. was cited for careless riding and suspended for three days, beginning Wednesday, because his mount Concierto de Varsovia was disqualified from second to fifth in Thursday's first race.

* Little Foxy Baby, a 3-year-old filly dropping from a $45,000 claiming race to a $25,000 claiming race, fractured the sesamoid bones in her right front ankle while racing down the backstretch in Friday's first race.