05/26/2009 11:00PM

As south goes, so goes north


When times were tough due to lack of field size earlier this year, Golden Gate Fields plugged away, putting on the best cards it could, even if it meant running seven races instead of eight and having to cancel a day of racing.

During the winter months, Golden Gate ran four-day weeks, although in retrospect, that decision came when it had a much higher horse population.

When the California Horse Racing Board granted approval for Hollywood Park to run four-day weeks beginning May 20, there were concerns about how the lack of a Southern California signal would affect Golden Gate Fields.

Last Wednesday, the first day of no Hollywood Park racing, live handle at Golden Gate dropped 12 percent. Throughout the Northern California simulcast network the dropoff was even more precipitous, 29 percent. Even a 20 percent increase in out-of-state wagering couldn't make up for the local decline.

Last week, the CHRB told Golden Gate that it, too, would revert to a four-day-a-week schedule.

Golden Gate Fields general manager Robert Hartman tried unsuccessfully to convince the board to allow his track to run.

"The Southern California satellites gave feedback that is was unprofitable to stay open," Hartman said. "Part of the reason is that there is little product Wednesday with Churchill Downs closed."

North and south rely on one another, particularly with simulcasting. Having only one signal in the air cuts into the handle, especially on days when there is no signal from the south, as has happened in the past on the fair circuit.

If there is a bright point, said Hartman, it is that Golden Gate will finish out its meet with stronger cards, thanks to the four-day weeks. It will help ontrack, in the satellite network, and also in out-of-state wagering, where Hartman admits, "We lost appeal with short fields."

Lightning strikes twice for 'Autism'

Autism Awareness is the type of horse that can attract positive attention to racing. He was a $1,000 yearling purchase in September 2006 at Pleasanton. The $1,000 price was the minimum bid, and owner Johnny Taboada was surprised when he went back to the barn area that he received a couple of inquiries about selling him right away for $2,000.

Autism Awareness was winless in 11 starts as a 2-year-old before finally winning his maiden at age 3. He was next entered in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby and scored a $126 shocker.

Taboada's phone was ringing off the hook, in no small part because of the name Autism Awareness, which had been suggested by his wife, Hedieh, because their son Renzo suffered from autism.

Plans were already being made to use the horse to spark awareness about autism, but three days after the El Camino Real Derby, he came up lame and needed a chip removed from his left knee.

More than a year later, he won Monday's Grade 3, $150,000 Berkeley Stakes, paying $62.80, and his bandwagon is full once again.

"Odds don't mean anything to us," Taboada said. "There's nothing like winning the El Camino Real Derby, but this is very close.

"A lot of people around the nation have paid attention to this horse, but they've kind of lost interest. I think they'll be noticing him again."

Taboada is again making plans to use his star to promote awareness of autism.

Taboada also has a 3-year-old maiden filly named Cure Autism, but she ran ninth Monday despite being dropped from straight maiden competition into a bottom-level $8,000 maiden claimer.

Sierra Sunset to await Ack Ack

Sierra Sunset was supposed to return to the races in last Saturday's Alcatraz Stakes, but trainer Jeff Bonde scratched him.

"His last work [at Pleasanton] was interrupted by a loose horse, and I don't think he got enough out of it," Bonde said. "He couldn't gallop out like I wanted him to."

Bonde said Sierra Sunset will most likely be pointed to the June 6 Ack Ack at Hollywood Park.

Spring House heads Turf lineup

Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Golden Gate Fields Turf has been filled by marathon specialists, led by Spring House, who is coming off a second in the 1 3/4-mile, Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita in his last start on April 15.

The 7-year-old Spring House has a win and two thirds at this distance.

He meets seven rivals Saturday, including Obrigado, third behind him in the San Juan Capistrano, and Yacht Spott, who has never finished worse than second over the course and has good speed. Ordination got used to the course with a nice win against first-level allowance runners last time.