11/06/2003 12:00AM

A record Oak Tree for O'Neill barn

Email

ARCADIA, Calif. - Doug O'Neill set a record for most victories by a trainer at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting on Wednesday when Long Gone Con gave him his 22nd victory since the meet began on Sept. 28.

O'Neill, 35, broke the record held by Bob Baffert, who won 21 races at the 1998 and 1999 meetings.

The Oak Tree meeting ends Sunday. O'Neill will finish the meeting as the leading trainer. Earlier this year, he won the training title at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting.

O'Neill reached the Oak Tree milestone with 65 starters, giving him a winning percentage of 34.

"You never expect this," he said. "It's just been incredible. We've dropped out of straight maidens into maiden claimers, and we've had some speed horses get easy leads. It's all kind of clicked. We had kind of a subpar Del Mar."

O'Neill credited assistant Leandro Mora for his success. O'Neill also credited his brother, Dennis, who serves an assistant trainer and as a scout for potential horses.

"I'm on the phone 80 percent of the morning, and Leandro is doing all the work and hard labor," O'Neill said. "It's been a great combination. Hopefully he doesn't get upset and quit."

Saturday, O'Neill will have plenty of chances to pad the record when he starts 13 horses in the 10-race California Cup program.

He starts Sky Jack in the $250,000 Classic; Blairs General, Menacing Dennis, and Sea to See in the $175,000 Mile; Cee's Elegance and Cyber Slew in the $150,000 Matron; Aclevershadeofjade, Oneexcessivenite and Grant Marty a Wish in the $150,000 Distaff; Highly Tempting in the $150,000 Sprint; Black Horse Money and Pleasure Honor in the $125,000 Juvenile; and Seattle Sloop in the $125,000 Juvenile Fillies.

O'Neill had two chances to break the record on Wednesday.

In the second race, Spirited finished second after leading for much of a starter allowance over 1 1/16 miles. In the fifth race, Long Gone Con led throughout an optional claimer, scoring by 3 1/2 lengths under Victor Espinoza.

He was claimed for $62,500 by trainer Art Sherman.

O'Neill is the defending training champion of the Hollywood Park fall meeting, which begins on Tuesday, but was reluctant to make a prediction for his 60-horse stable.

"It might be a little quiet," he said. "We're running a third of the barn this last week. Anything that is ready to run will run."

Good chance of rainy weekend

There is a likelihood of rain from Friday through Sunday, according to Steve Wood, Santa Anita's track superintendent.

Wood follows the weather, making adjustments along the way to maintain the main track. He said rain could fall as soon as early afternoon on Friday, with continued chances on Saturday and Sunday.

Wood predicted .20 inches of rain on Friday, but said that amount would not hamper the surface for the California Cup. He feared that additional rain could make it more difficult to maintain a fast main track and could lead to a surface switch for some of the turf races.

"Each day should be less than a quarter of an inch," he said. "The first day shouldn't affect us too much.

"If we get a half-inch it will be tough. It's 60 percent that we'll probably get rain. The best thing we can hope for is that it comes after 4:30 on Friday and we can get it sealed."