05/27/2008 11:00PM

Santa Anita cancels drainage test


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Santa Anita officials have canceled a plan to extensively water the track's synthetic surface this week in an attempt to simulate a severe rainstorm after being advised by Australian synthetic-track expert Ian Pearse to replace the asphalt base this summer in an effort to improve drainage.

Santa Anita intended to water the synthetic track Wednesday and Thursday to see how the course drained when the equivalent of three to four inches of rain was applied. Last week, a surprise late spring rainstorm left approximately two inches of rain on the surface, which did not drain as well as officials had hoped. Small pools of water were visible on the track and some trainers curtailed training.

Track president Ron Charles said Pearse inspected the course Tuesday and discovered that it had not drained well in places after the recent rainstorm. Pearse has recommended that more material be added to the existing track.

"He spent yesterday inspecting and digging numerous holes and found that the base and the asphalt is draining slowly or not at all," Charles said. "He recommended that we need to replace the asphalt base, and would have to re-treat the entire track. He's asking for two to three weeks, so we can get every inch treated.

"It wouldn't serve any purpose to flood the track."

There is an urgency to the drainage issue, since Santa Anita will host the Breeders' Cup races on Oct. 24-25 and again in 2009. The next live racing at Santa Anita will be the start of the Oak Tree meeting on Sept. 24.

Santa Anita has had problems with drainage on its synthetic track since it was installed last summer. Earlier this year, the course failed to drain sufficiently after repeated rainstorms, leading to the cancellation of 11 racing days.

The course is a mixture of a Cushion Track brand surface installed last August and Pearse's Pro-Ride surface. In early February, Pearse spent four days adding polymers and fibers to the existing surface of wax, sand, fiber, and other materials in an effort to improve drainage. The course drained better after Pearse's renovation but was not subjected to as much rain as had fallen in January and early February.

The track informed horsemen of its decision not to close for the water test on Wednesday morning. Training was scheduled to be cancelled Thursday, but will now continue indefinitely.

It was unclear Wednesday how Santa Anita would proceed with Pearse's recommendation.

Charles said one tentative plan is to begin the renovation in mid-July, corresponding with the end of the current Hollywood Park meeting on July 13 and the start of the Del Mar meeting on July 16 when many stables ship to Del Mar.

Charles said a three-week break would allow for a reconstruction of the asphalt base and would allow Pearse to blend polymers and fibers into the entire track. The asphalt base has been a source of concern since last fall because it would not allow water to pass through it and because it was coming apart in areas, leaving rocks on the surface.

Charles said he would have a more definitive plan in place within two weeks after speaking with Frank Stronach, chairman of Santa Anita parent company Magna Entertainment.

Albertus Maximus plans to gun it

Trainer Gary Mandella knows how Albertus Maximus will be treated by bettors in Saturday's $250,000 Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park.

"He's going to be ignored," Mandella said. "He's got something to prove."

Facing a field of five that includes Santa Anita Handicap winner Heatseeker, Oaklawn Handicap winner Tiago, Mervyn LeRoy Handicap winner Surf Cat, and Breeders' Cup Turf runner-up Shamdinan, Albertus Maximus is arguably in the toughest race of his career.

But the 4-year-old colt does have an asset - he is likely to set the pace.

Owned by breeders Marianne and Brandon Chase, Albertus Maximus won his last start, an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles by 6 1/4 lengths on April 23. He did not face a tough field, but won well, his first win since an allowance race in May 2007. In between, he made five starts, including second-place finishes in the Affirmed Handicap and Swaps Stakes, and an eighth in the $1 million Pacific Classic.

In the April 23 allowance race, he was sent to the front, a tactic that Mandella wants jockey Corey Nakatani to use in Saturday's race over 1 1/8 miles.

"We'll try for that trip," Mandella said. "He's got to break well to put him in that spot."

Mandella was enthused by Albertus Maximus's six-furlong workout in 1:11.20 on May 18, the fastest of 19 recorded works at the distance.

"It was the best he's ever worked," Mandella said.

Romance Is Diane can't escape Zenyatta

Romance Is Diane can not get away from Zenyatta, even when they do not appear in the same races.

Earlier this year, after Zenyatta beat Romance Is Diane in the El Encino Stakes, trainer Mike Mitchell decided to pass the La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita, fearing that Zenyatta would be too tough to beat.

At the time, Mitchell decided to give Romance Is Diane a break, but was ruing his decision when Zenyatta also skipped the La Canada.

"I would have been 4-5 in the La Canada," Mitchell said.

Mitchell pointed Romance Is Diane for Saturday's $175,000 Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park and has once again run into Zenyatta, who will be a heavy favorite.

"I can't duck her anymore," Mitchell said.

At least Romance Is Diane adores Hollywood Park. She won the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet in 2006 and the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap last December.

Romance Is Diane is likely to have the early lead, which means she may wind up as little more than a target for Zenyatta, who followed her win in the El Encino with a comfortable win in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 5 to remain unbeaten after four starts.

The Grade 2 Milady has drawn a field of eight, including Santa Barbara Handicap winner Foxysox and Santa Teresita, winner of the Santa Lucia Handicap at Santa Anita on April 12.