12/08/2006 1:00AM

Santa Anita purses start a bit higher

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Santa Anita will begin its winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26 with a purse structure higher than the start of the 2005-06 meeting but lower than the conclusion of last year's meeting, Santa Anita racing secretary Rick Hammerle said on Friday.

During the 2005-06 meeting, the track had two 5 percent purse increases. The purses for the start of the upcoming meeting will reflect the purses after the first increase of 2006, which occurred in February.

A second purse increase was enacted in late March 2006, reflecting higher than expected business in the first three months of the year.

For the start of the 2006-07 meeting, Hammerle said that a maiden special weight race for sprinters will carry a purse of $46,000, a gain of $2,000 over the start of last year's meeting. By the end of last year's meeting, the purse for a similar race was $48,000.

Hammerle said that maiden special weight races going two turns would carry a $48,000 purse. A first-condition allowance race for sprinters will have a $50,000 purse and the same race around two turns will be worth $55,000. At the start of the 2006 meeting, a first-condition allowance race around two turns was worth $52,000.

Hammerle said he is optimistic that Santa Anita can continue a trend of large fields that has occurred in recent weeks at Hollywood Park. Through last Sunday, Hollywood Park's fall meeting was averaging 8.3 starters per race, compared with 7.5 in 2005.

There is a gap of more than a week between the conclusion of the Hollywood Park meeting on Dec. 18 and the start of the Santa Anita winter meeting. In addition many horsemen on this circuit give their horses a late-season break in advance of the Santa Anita winter meeting, which is considered the start of the racing year in Southern California.

"We'll try to follow the pattern at Hollywood Park," Hammerle said. "Whether there is more horses I don't know, but there are more running. The best thing they did is give us that break between meets."

Hammerle said there are 15 stakes in the first 10 days of the meeting, a calendar similar to last year. The first two weeks of the meeting are highlighted by two seven-furlong, Grade 1 races worth $250,000 for 3-year-olds - the Malibu on Dec. 26 and the La Brea for fillies on Dec. 30.

The 2005-06 meeting covered 86 days and had an all-sources average handle of $11.6 million, a gain of 9.3 percent over a rain-plagued 2004-05 meeting.

Seven riders agree to sit out

Seven jockeys will serve three-day suspensions in the next week after dropping appeals of suspensions issued earlier this year or for penalties announced in recent days.

Jockeys Jose Valdivia and Saul Arias have dropped appeals of suspensions issued during the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting in October. Arias's suspension covers Wednesday through Friday, while Valdivia will be out from Dec. 16-18.

Michael Baze has dropped an appeal from the Del Mar meeting and began a suspension on Saturday.

Corey Nakatani has dropped an appeal issued at this meeting last month and will miss Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Jockeys Isaias Enriquez, Martin Garcia, and Richard Migliore will miss next Thursday through Saturday for suspensions issued on Thursday. All three were cited for causing interference in races on Wednesday - Enriquez in the fourth race and Garcia and Migliore in the eighth race.

Stormello ready for Futurity

Stormello finished more than 16 lengths behind Street Sense in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs last month, but the fifth-place finish was far from discouraging to trainer Bill Currin.

Currin quickly regrouped and pointed Stormello for next Saturday's Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity over 1 1/16 miles. Five weeks after the Breeders' Cup, Currin said that Stormello is ready for the Futurity, which has an estimated purse of $400,000.

"I worked him a mile the other day in 1:38.20," Currin said, referring to a workout on Tuesday. "That's all I have to do" to be ready.

Currin said he was impressed with the way that Stormello finished the workout, going the opening quarter-mile in 26.20 seconds and the last six furlongs in 1:12.

Stormello has won 2 of 6 starts and $280,200. By far his most important win was a gritty neck victory over Futurity hopeful Principle Secret in the Grade 2 Norfolk BC Stakes at Santa Anita in early October.

Jockey Kent Desormeaux gave Stormello a perfect trip in the Norfolk, stalking the pace to midstretch before engaging the leaders. The same did not occur in the BC Juvenile. Stormello was near the front early and was fighting for the early lead turning for home before tiring.

"I think he took on too much too soon," Currin said of Stormello's trip. "He looked good for three-quarters and he had to tire. He couldn't go with the crazy fractions like that. We can slow him down a little bit."

Stormello, who will be ridden by Desormeaux, is expected to face Belgravia, Liquidity, Principle Secret, Notional, Roman Commander, and Unusual Suspect.

Notional, third in the Prevue behind Belgravia here last month, worked six furlongs in 1:12 here on Friday, which equaled the fastest of 21 recorded works at the distance.

Notional will be making his first start around two turns. Belgravia, trained by Patrick Biancone, is likely to go favored.

Eight probable for Starlet

Next Sunday's Grade 1 Starlet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies may have as many as eight starters, including Betrlucky Thangood, Runway Rosie, She's Included, and Super Freaky. The race over 1 1/16 miles has an estimated purse of $450,000.

Four other probable starters must be supplemented - Mistical Plan, Mystical Soul, Quick Little Miss, and Romance is Diane. Quick Little Miss won the Moccasin Stakes in her last start in November.

* Jockey agent Vince DeGregory, 74, was released from St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank on Friday, a day after undergoing a heart procedure for arterial blockage.