01/21/2005 1:00AM

Solis works horses, nears return


ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Alex Solis, who has not ridden since suffering a broken vertebrae in a spill at Del Mar in late July, worked horses at Santa Anita on Friday, a day after receiving doctor's approval to resume exercise.

Solis was aboard horses for trainers Richard Mandella and Jeff Mullins. Solis, 40, said he plans to take his time preparing for a comeback and is aiming to resume riding in early February.

"I want to take the next two or three weeks to work horses and get my timing down," he said. "I want to do it right."

Solis, wearing a fleece pullover zipped up to his neck, said he wants to regain fitness and lose weight.

"I've been running up hills and riding my mechanical horse," he said.

Solis was leading the nation's riders in earnings last July 23 when he suffered the injury in a one-horse spill. He finished 2004 ranked ninth in earnings, with $11,554,851. In March, he won the $6 million Dubai World Cup on Pleasantly Perfect.

Solis said the forced absence has made him more anxious to resume riding.

"I'm excited to be back," he said. "Never again will I take anything for granted. It opened my eyes of how much I love to be here."

After 68 starts, F J's Pace is retired

F J's Pace, a popular gelding who earned nearly $800,000 in 68 starts, has been retired, trainer Doug O'Neill said.

F J's Pace, 10, was found to have a filling in a pastern earlier this week, and owners Rene and Margie Lambert decided to end his career.

"The diagnosis was that he'd need 90 days off," O'Neill said. "At his age, it doesn't make sense. We thought it was best to retire him."

F J's Pace won 20 of those 68 starts and $794,420. He was trained by Bob Baffert at the start of his career and by O'Neill in recent seasons.

F J's Pace won the 2002 Aprisa Handicap at Fairplex Park and placed in three stakes, including the 1997 Generous Stakes and 2002 Vernon Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park.

F J's Pace was perhaps best known for his success in turf sprints. At Santa Anita, he won 10 of 23 starts on the hillside turf course. O'Neill said F J's Pace will be sent to the Lambert's ranch in Southern California, where he will share a paddock with Sky Jack, the winner of the 2002 Hollywood Gold Cup.

"He's such a cool horse, and he means a lot to us," O'Neill said.

Alternate pick-six picks coming soon

Alternate selections were eliminated from pick six plays after the scandal at the 2002 Breeders' Cup, but the long wait to have them re-established may finally be near an end. At the California Horse Racing Board's monthly meeting on Thursday at Arcadia (Calif.) City Hall, David Payton of the tote company Scientific Games said the software should be reconfigured to again allow alternative selections "by the Del Mar meet, hopefully sooner."

"We understand this is a feature patrons want back," Payton said.

Currently, if a horse is scratched in the pick six, that selection moves to the betting favorite.

"I don't think it's fair for people to be moved onto a favorite," said board member Richard Shapiro. "The betting public should wager on who they intended to wager."

More proposals for players

Jim Quinn, the head of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Player's Panel, urged the board to force tracks and tote companies to move quicker on other items related to bettors, specifically rule changes for scratched horses in the pick three and pick four.

Quinn said the rules in New York are ideal. If a horse is scratched in the first leg of those bets, wagers are refunded. If a horse is scratched in a subsequent leg, a consolation payoff is calculated. And if part of a coupled entry is scratched, the remaining runner competes for purse money only.

California's regulations "need to be revised," Quinn said.

Quinn was supported by Steven Crist, publisher of Daily Racing Form, and Ron Charles of Magna Entertainment.

Charles asked the board to change rules to allow for will-pays to be shown for the pick six. Currently, will-pays are shown for the pick three and pick four, but not the pick six.

Board, guild clash on weight issue

The scale of weights in California is in the process of being raised to mollify concerns of the Jockeys' Guild, but testimony at the board meeting turned testy when a guild attorney called the increase "a gesture, a sop," then misspoke about which items are weighed and which are not.

Tom Robbins, the racing secretary at Del Mar, said, "We are trying to get the minimum up to 118 pounds in most races."

Currently, safety-related items - such as flak jackets and helmets - are not considered part of the package when a jockey weighs out before a race. Barry Broad, the guild attorney, mistakenly said all jockey equipment is included when a jockey weighs out, but he was corrected by Drew Couto, the president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

Ingrid Fermin, chairing her first meeting as the board's executive director, pointed out that it was the guild that years ago asked for a waiver on safety equipment when calculating weight.

Shapiro suggested that the best solution would be to count everything. "Why not say, Here's what everything weighs?" he asked. "Have all equipment counted, and have a minimum weight for jockeys."

Couto also had to rein in Broad later at the board meeting when Broad told the board it might be overstepping its boundaries regarding insurance, because the guild is a "union."

Couto pointed out that the guild is not a union, and added that the guild has yet to comply with a TOC request for an accounting of insurance funds, which the guild previously volunteered to do. Much of the guild's insurance fund is mandated by state law in the form of uncashed mutuel tickets.

Couto said the guild owed an explanation because "we're talking about money allocated - for health and welfare - with public money, through statute."

Hollywood Park faces surface woes

An admitted rise in breakdowns and problems with the turf course during the fall Hollywood Park meeting has caused that track to take a look at both surfaces, according to track president Rick Baedeker.

"The dirt track was an anomaly. There was a high number of breakdowns, no question," Baedeker said. "There will be a significant renovation before the next meeting."

Baedeker said the turf course has "a systemic problem, in that it's not built for winter racing."

"We have Bermuda grass for spring-summer racing," Baedeker said. "This year, a couple of spots did not dry out. After the spring-summer meeting, we are going to take the course up and examine the drainage problem."

Hollywood Park will not be open this summer when Del Mar is running.

* Last fall, Santa Anita's Oak Tree Racing Association became the first organization to conduct pre-race testing on all entered horses for alkalizing agents, or milkshakes. Dr. Scott Stanley of the Ken Maddy Equine Laboratory at the University of California-Davis, said there is a possibility those blood samples may be used for additional, experimental testing of other substances. Stanley said the samples are "archived for potential review," but also said he was "not sure there's appropriate authority to anything outside TCO2," the total carbon dioxide test for milkshakes.

* Jockeys Kerwin John and Gary Stevens were given suspensions by track stewards on Friday. John, who has not ridden since suffering a pelvis injury in November, was suspended from Sunday through Jan. 29. The penalty was issued in July at Del Mar, and John appealed. The appeal recently was withdrawn. Stevens was suspended Wednesday through Friday, for causing interference aboard Greengetsthetrick in Thursday's sixth race.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman