01/22/2010 12:00AM

Scrambling to keep in shape at Santa Anita


ARCADIA, Calif. - By late morning Friday, Santa Anita had sustained 7 1/2 inches of rain since last Sunday and track officials were assessing whether they would be able to race Saturday after a frustrating week in which the synthetic main track failed to drain sufficiently.

Prospects for racing were more optimistic for Sunday's nine-race program, which would allow for at least one day of racing on the weekend.

When racing does resume, some horsemen are unsure what to expect from their starters. Without full main-track training at Santa Anita since last Sunday, trainers are eager to get their stables back to a normal routine. Since Monday, training has largely been confined to an infield training track, which is more suitable to jogging a horse than a workout.

Meanwhile, across town at Hollywood Park, the Cushion Track synthetic surface there has drained sufficiently, with no major disruption to training. While the barn area there is less than half full, there is a belief that horses based at Hollywood Park may have an edge in upcoming races at Santa Anita.

"They'll have a big advantage over us over the next few weeks," said Jack Carava, whose stable is based at Santa Anita.

Some Santa Anita trainers, such as Bob Baffert and John Sadler, have sent horses to Hollywood Park for workouts to remain on schedule for upcoming stakes.

Santa Anita lost three days of racing this week - Monday, Thursday, and Friday - because of poor drainage on the Pro-Ride synthetic track.

On Tuesday, track superintendent Richard Tedesco began to aerate the course with a device pulled by a tractor that punctured holes in the surface. The aeration was designed to improve drainage.

The procedure worked to a large extent, with the exception of a 30-yard-by-10-yard area on the outside of the track near the finish line that did not drain. Standing water was visible in that area Friday while rain fell occasionally.

Tedesco said that material in that area would be replaced late Friday or early Saturday. Track president Ron Charles said officials hoped to conduct some training on the track Saturday morning in advance of racing.

"As soon as it stops raining, we'll clean this up," Charles said of the troubled area. "We want to wait until the last of the rain. Right now, the decision is to race [on Saturday], unless something unforeseen happens with the rain."

Gio Ponti could ship to Gulfstream

The disruption in training may lead 2009 champion older male and turf male Gio Ponti to make his 2010 debut at Gulfstream Park.

Unraced since finishing second to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November, Gio Ponti has been restricted to jogging on the training track this week. One option for his 2010 debut is the $150,000 San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 7, though trainer Christophe Clement said Friday that Gio Ponti needs to work in coming days to remain on schedule.

"If he needs more time, we'll go someplace else," Clement said.

Two options at Gulfstream Park are the Donn Handicap on Feb. 6 or the Canadian Turf Stakes over a mile on Feb. 20.

Track may add makeup races to cards

The cancellation of three days of racing is likely to lead to makeup races being added to existing programs, Charles said.

Concerned about field sizes, Santa Anita carded seven races on Thursday, one fewer than normal. Next week, the track will go back to eight-race programs on weekdays and could run nine races on Fridays if sufficient horses are entered.

"With a little more light in the afternoon now, to make up for the inconveniences to everyone on this, we'd be trying to card some additional races, whether it's Friday, Saturday, and Sunday," Charles said. "Right now, we can fill them. We have a lot of races that were drawn that haven't been used. We would consider writing some additional races."

The Usual Q.T. to Sunshine Millions Classic

The Usual Q.T., winner of four consecutive stakes in the final months of 2009, is the leading contender for the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic here on Saturday.

Trained by Jim Cassidy, The Usual Q.T. has raced on turf during his hot streak, which includes the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby and Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in November and the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort Stakes here Dec. 26.

The Sunshine Millions Classic is run over 1 1/8 miles on the main track and is restricted to California-breds and Florida-breds. There are six Sunshine Millions races next Saturday - three at Santa Anita and three at Gulfstream Park

The Usual Q.T is one of eight California-breds pre-entered for the Classic, along with the winners of two $250,000 races for statebreds in 2009 - Bold Chieftain (California Cup Classic) and Compari (Snow Chief Stakes).

The Florida-bred contingent for the Sunshine Millions Classic includes Bad Action, winner of the Pegasus Handicap at the Meadowlands in November.