02/09/2008 12:00AM

Revamped surface gets thumbs up

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ARCADIA, Calif. - After a week-long break for a much-needed renovation project, racing resumed at Santa Anita on Saturday over a synthetic track that met the approval of several jockeys that rode in the first race.

The $20,000 claiming race over 1 1/16 miles was won by the front-runner Ghosttrapper, who was timed in 1:43.30, slower than the fast times recorded before the track was renovated.

The track had a "good cushion," according to jockey David Flores, who finished third aboard Brother Pegasus. "It feels much safer. Hopefully, it will stay that way."

Even Victor Espinoza, who finished last of 10 aboard Judge Gallivan, was content.

"The track is good," Espinoza said. "It has a good bounce. I think it's much better than before."

The race was not without an incident. The Five J's, who finished sixth, was vanned off with an injury to his right front ankle, according to track stewards.

Saturday's program was the first since polymers and fibers from the Australian synthetic surface Pro Ride were added to the existing Cushion Track brand surface installed last August.

The Cushion Track surface failed to drain after several major rainstorms, leading to the cancellation of 11 days of racing in January and early February.

The renovation project ended at 4 a.m. on Saturday, less than an hour before the start of training.

Three horses were exercised on the backstretch of the track late Friday morning. From lunchtime on Friday until early Saturday morning, maintenance crews worked to blend the fiber into the surface and groomed the surface to make it even.

Main track training was conducted from 4:45 to 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, but ended early to allow crews time to make a few needed repairs to the course.

"We stopped at 8:45 a.m. to look at a few areas," track president Ron Charles said.

There were 53 recorded workouts at distances ranging from three furlongs to a mile on Saturday.

The average five-furlong time for 15 workers was 1:01.42, a time slightly slower than the average times in late January and early February.

"It seems like it needs to settle, but it's pretty good," trainer Vladimir Cerin said. "The horses are coming back fine."

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer worked three horses, but only after his exercise riders said they were happy with the surface.

"We galloped a bunch over it," Hollendorfer said. "Neither of my exercise riders said there was anything wrong with the track."