07/23/2010 2:55PM

Sadler looks for bright spots at Del Mar


DEL MAR, Calif. – It’s good to be king, but it’s great to be John Sadler, especially at Del Mar.

Sadler has a solid shot this summer to win his third straight training title at the seaside meet. He opened the season with a smash of a race by the emerging 3-year-old star Twirling Candy in the Oceanside Stakes. He’s got his one-two punch of Oaks winners, Switch and Crisp, running Sunday in the San Clemente Stakes. And to top it off, he’s just about ready to move into new digs in tony La Jolla, just down the road.

Into this garden delights, though, the realities of California racing intrude. For California’s owners and trainers, the hits seem to just keep on coming.

The uncertainty of ownership intentions at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita Park nags at people daily, like a sore on the side of the tongue. The stables at Santa Anita are a shambles. The turf at Hollywood wears out before the meet mercifully ends. And hanging over both tracks is the issue of their synthetic main-track surfaces, neither of which have been proven to be anything resembling “all weather,” as advertised.

Del Mar, at least, promises to offer a brief respite. It is a seven-week summer camp where expectations are both lowered – in terms of backstretch facilities – and raised, especially when it comes to such basic needs as diversionary activities and good, old-fashioned racetrack fellowship.

Then, like gas passed in a stately cathedral, the mood was quickly ruined when training had to be canceled on the second morning of the meet. Typhoon? Earthquake? Crisis at Dog Beach? Nope, training was canceled because the synthetic material on the main track had separated into its constituent parts, those being artificial fibers and natural, though highly engineered, sand.

“Not this,” went the refrain. “Not here. Not now.” Management called it a hiccup.

Del Mar’s surface trouble was followed later that day with the news emanating from the meeting of the California Horse Racing Board that Santa Anita Park will pop for no more than a “renovation” of the synthetic surface that betrayed them during last winter’s rains. There have been better Thursdays.

As president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, Sadler gets to channel the angst. He was keeping a lid on pretty good Friday morning, after regular training hours resumed, but he could hardly hide the prevailing sentiment.

“It’s especially bad when we’re trying to hang on to owners in California,” Sadler said. “All they keep hearing about is problems with the tracks. As for the trainers, we’ve been almost beaten into submission. But we’ve got to keep trying.”

Racing horses used to be the point, so let’s pretend. On Sunday, Sadler’s San Clemente fillies will be up against graded stakes winners Evening Jewel and City to City, along with minor stakes winners Repo, It Tiz, and Crisis of Spirit. Going forward, the San Clemente leads to the Del Mar Oaks and, with some luck, the Queen Elizabeth Challenge at Keeneland, both races very much worth winning.

“If you look at the form, they all fit pretty close together – Crisp, Switch, and Evening Jewel,” Sadler said.

Switch is a daughter of Quiet American owned by the CRK Stable of Lee and Susan Searing. When she finished lapped on Blind Luck in the Las Virgenes earlier this year, making only the third start of her life, Sadler knew he had a good one. When Switch beat Blind Luck in the Hollywood Oaks, while getting 10 pounds, the trainer figured he could have some real fun as the rest of the season unspooled.

Crisp, a daughter of El Corredor owned by Michael Talla, is the bigger and darker of the two Sadler fillies. She also tipped her mitt early, winning the Santa Ysabel in her third start. Two races later, Crisp beat Blind Luck at level weights in the Santa Anita Oaks.

“Switch is kind of nervous,” Sadler noted. “She goes out at 5:15 every day, and she’s not one that you’d particularly want to take out of town.”

They did, once, for the Bonnie Miss last March at Gulfstream, where she finished up the track.

“Crisp is more of a laid-back filly,” the trainer added. “Plods along and just keeps coming at you.”

Thinking she might have a road game, Sadler sent Crisp to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks and Belmont Park for the Acorn. Both trips were flops – she is clearly not happy on eastern dirt – after which Crisp came back in the Le Cle Stakes on the Hollywood grass with the kind of effort that should set her up well for these turf dates at Del Mar.

Then there is Twirling Candy, a fine, dark bay figure of an unbeaten beast (3 for 3) who was getting his bath late Friday morning and giving his people a handful in return. Sadler was questioned as to the colt’s rightful age, since he looked closer to 5 than 3.

“Doesn’t he?” the trainer replied, taking no offense. “He’s very coltish, too.”

Twirling Candy confirmed this with a vibrant whinny, answering a call from an outdoor pen down the way.

“The first two times he went to the paddock with his thing out,” Sadler said, using the PG-rated terminology. “The second time he ran, we couldn’t get the blinkers on, so they put them on at the gate. So before the Oceanside, he schooled with blinkers, and we put them on a million times at the barn. When he went into the paddock with blinkers the other day, it was the best he’s ever been.”

And he only figures to get better.