09/25/2007 11:00PM

Santa Anita goes synthetic

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - The launch of synthetic-track racing at Santa Anita on Wednesday was well-received by the jockeys who rode the first race, an otherwise sleepy $12,500 claiming race at 1 1/16 miles.

Si Chimi ($12.80) stalked pacesetter Mesa Magic for the first half-mile, took the lead on the final turn, and held off a late threat from 21-1 I Swear to win by three-quarters of a length in 1:43.92.

The early pace was even - 24.09 and 48.05 seconds.

Afterward, even the losing jockeys were generally pleased with the surface, including Victor Espinoza, who rode pacesetter and 2-1 favorite Mesa Magic to a seventh-place finish.

"He handled it good even though he got a little tired at the end," Espinoza said. "It feels like it is comfortable."

Santa Anita installed the Cushion Track brand synthetic surface over the summer at a cost of more than $10 million. Wednesday's opening day of the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting was the first time the surface had been used in races. Training on the track began in early September. The track failed to drain properly after it rained over the weekend, and some trainers on Monday said the track had become uneven and sent their horses to the dirt training track instead. On Monday evening, the track adjusted its maintenance of the surface, and on Tuesday workout times noticeably quickened.

All three of the major Southern California tracks have synthetic surfaces, with a Cushion Track at Hollywood Park and a Polytrack surface at Del Mar.

Espinoza described the Santa Anita surface as "a little bit different" than Hollywood's.

"But it feels good," he said. "I think it will be better with time."

Jockey Mike Smith, who finished third in the first race aboard Mob Rule, said his mount "handled it with no problems." Mob Rule was fifth early and was beaten 1 1/4 lengths.

In the third race, Johnny Eves ($6) led throughout an allowance race, finishing six furlongs in a quick 1:08.05. He finished 1 1/4 lengths in front of Street Boss.

"It was so easy," said winning rider David Flores. "It feels firm and was very comfortable. He was just flying."

Lava Man may go in Goodwood

Lava Man, the top older horse in California since the spring of 2005, was a surprise entrant for Saturday's $500,000 Goodwood Stakes, but is not a certain starter, according to trainer Doug O'Neill.

O'Neill said he wants to assess the tendencies of the new synthetic track before deciding whether to run the 6-year-old gelding. O'Neill and the owners - the Kenly family's STD Racing and Jason Wood - have until one hour before post time for the Goodwood to make a final decision on Lava Man's participation.

"I think the biggest thing is we'll watch and see how the races go in the next couple of days," O'Neill said before Wednesday's card.

O'Neill is hoping the Cushion Track is firm, similar to Hollywood Park's, and not as deep as the Polytrack at Del Mar, which did not play favorably to front-runners. Lava Man typically races near the front. He won the Hollywood Gold Cup for the third consecutive year in June, but was sixth as the 6-5 favorite in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 19, his most recent start.

"If it looks Hollywood Park-ish and the track is firmer, the option is there," O'Neill said. "If it resembles Del Mar at all, we'll wait."

The $250,000 Oak Tree Mile on turf on Oct. 7 had been Lava Man's goal for the last several weeks.

The Goodwood has drawn a field of 10. While Lava Man is the most accomplished horse, there will be considerable attention for the 3-year-old Tiago, who won the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park in his last start in July, and Awesome Gem and Hello Sunday, the second- and third-place finishers in the Pacific Classic.

Two other major stakes are on Saturday's 10-race program - the $400,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/4 miles on turf and the $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

Nashoba's Key will attempt to stretch her unbeaten streak to seven in the Yellow Ribbon, but must beat Citronnade, the winner of four graded stakes earlier this year.

The Oak Leaf drew a field of 11, including Set Play, winner of the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante; Tasha's Miracle, winner of the Grade 3 Sorrento Stakes; and the impressive maiden winner Cry and Catch Me.

Loss hit Machowsky hard

The death of the promising 2-year-old colt Drill Down from injuries suffered in a workout on Monday morning will be difficult for trainer Mike Machowsky to forget. By Wednesday morning, the colt's stall was still vacant, with no immediate plans to fill the void, Machowsky said.

Drill Down, third in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity this month, was euthanized after suffering injuries in his final work before a scheduled start in Sunday's $250,000 Norfolk Stakes.

"The night it happened I was kind of numb," Machowsky said. "It was the hardest day I've had in horse racing. When I walked in here on Tuesday and walked by his stall, it was hard. He was a cool horse to be around."

Machowsky is trying to look forward. Friday, he has three runners on an eight-race program, including two of the more promising horses in his stable - Debie Ginsburg and Rush Rush.

Rush Rush, the winner of an optional claimer at 1 1/8 miles on turf at Del Mar on Aug. 24, starts in the second race, an optional claimer. The race is a prep to the $100,000 Carleton Burke Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on turf on Oct. 28. Rush Rush ran fourth in the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 15, his stakes debut and first start at 1 1/2 miles on turf.

"We thought this would be good timing," Machowsky said. "He ran pretty good in the Sunset, but he was not as seasoned as the other horses. I think a mile and a half will be good for him."

Debie Ginsburg starts in an allowance race at 6 1/2 furlongs, the seventh race. A 3-year-old filly named for the late California horse racing writer, Debie Ginsburg was third, beaten a neck, in the E.B. Johnston Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Fairplex Park on Sept. 9.

Seven furlongs "is probably her best distance," Machowsky said. "It looks like there is a little speed. She ran well at Fairplex Park, and she is going from a route to a sprint."