08/13/2008 11:00PM

Speaking up for form on synthetic surfaces


DEL MAR, Calif. - What was more bizarre? Was it Jess Jackson's dismissive comments about handicapping synthetic surfaces, or the post-comment silence from the California racing industry after Jackson's flawed critique of synthetic surfaces during an NTRA teleconference Aug. 5?

Jackson said: "Most handicappers, as you know, feel that [synthetic surfaces are] an unreliable true surface with respect to early speed and with respect to closers. You've had horses at Del Mar and Hollywood coming in at long, long odds. It just didn't figure on [the] handicapping side."

The statements are not true. In fact, Del Mar and Hollywood Park synthetic surfaces generally play fair. And contrary to Jackson's remarks, most handicappers feel synthetic surfaces are reliable. The fundamentals - condition, class, pace, and speed - still apply.

Objective analysis is why the win rate for favorites on Polytrack at Del Mar is up to 28 percent; favorites won 31 percent on Cushion Track during the spring-summer meet at Hollywood Park. The truth is, synthetic-surface racing is as predictable as racing on dirt.

While engineered surfaces are not perfect, handicappers have adjusted. On synthetics, speed does hold. When the pace gets too fast, closers do win. As for occasional longshot winners at Hollywood and Del Mar, they cannot be summarily dismissed as a byproduct of the surface.

Jackson has every right to keep Curlin in dirt races, but his under-informed verdict about synthetic-surface handicapping was just plain wrong. His comments were more wrong than the ensuing silence from Del Mar and Hollywood Park, which so far have failed to challenge Jackson's misguided commentary.

Misty Ocean live longshot on Oaks

An old betting angle re-emerges Saturday, and after a seven-year drought, maybe now is time for a European bomber. Not long ago, Euro imports making their U.S. debut at Del Mar were an automatic play, and led to Del Mar Oaks upsets by Golden Apples ($44) in 2001, and No Matter What ($34.80) in 2000. In the Oaks field this year, Oceane Music makes her U.S. debut after winning all three starts in Europe. Well, good luck to her.

Actually, the race is ripe to be upset by the local front-runner Misty Ocean, who was compromised by an insane pace while finishing third in the San Clemente Handicap. She meets less heat Saturday, and if she separates from Million Dollar Run, Misty Ocean can spring an upset over streaking Storm Mesa.

McDaniel's record seems untouchable

Trainer John Sadler may be red hot, but he will not beat trainer Red McDaniel's Del Mar record. Sadler won twice Wednesday, to give him 19 wins at the meet, nearly double Mike Mitchell, Jeff Mullins and Doug O'Neill (10 each). Sadler is on pace for a 32-win season, which would be the highest at Del Mar since 2000 when Bob Baffert (remember him?) had 32 winners.

But it was way back in 1954 when McDaniel averaged more than one a day, winning an unbelievable 47 races during a meet that lasted just 41 days.

Autrey's stock popular at claim box

Speaking of top trainers, Midwest-based Cody Autrey apparently uses Del Mar as little more than a sales outlet. Since the start of last summer, Autrey has started 30 horses at Del Mar, and won all of two races. But 14 of his shipper-starters were claimed, including three of four runners this meet.

Autrey has another one for sale Saturday - Pinpoint in race 3. Claimed on July 6 at Churchill Downs for $25,000, he is in for $20,000.

Bacharach's first-timer has talent

Pussycat, pussycat, I love you. But will bettors still love songwriter-horse owner Burt Bacharach and his 2-year-old filly after race 6 Saturday? Watsnewpussykat, a first-time starter owned by Bacharach and trained by Mike Mitchell, figures as a contender when she races 5 1/2 furlongs under Tyler Baze.

"She's very quick out of the gate," Mitchell said. "Fitness-wise, she's ready. But there's nothing like a race."

Named after the Bacharach hit song "What's new Pussycat" he wrote in the early 1960s, Watsnewpussykat is by the first-crop stallion Werblin, and was purchased for $47,000 by Mitchell for Bacharach at a 2-year-olds in training sale in April.

Machowsky thinking ahead

Looking for a sleeper 2-year-old? Write it down - Majormotionpicture. Trained by Mike Machowsky, the unraced colt by Action this Day is working so well that Machowsky already is worrying about Majormotionpicture and Kelly Leak facing each other in the same stakes race.

"I am really high on him," Machowsky said of Majormotionpicture, who is scheduled to make his debut on Aug. 24. "If he runs like I think he'll run, then he'll run back in the Norfolk and Kelly Leak will run in the Del Mar Futurity."

Kelly Leak won the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 10, but was disqualified for interference and placed fourth. Machowsky starts another 2-year-old firster Sunday, but said Raikkonen is "the type of horse that probably will need one first time out."

No odds-on favorite in Pacific Classic

Pacific Classic odds update: It looks like Go Between is the early favorite at about 3-1, which would be the highest-odds favorite in the race's 18-year history.

Go Between's price must be high, because at least 13 are expected to start. Student Council, who earned a 112 Beyer finishing second last out, will vie for favoritism. Only one Pacific Classic favorite has started higher than 2-1. That was Bertrando (2.40-1), who ran eighth in 1994.

Keep an eye on Lethal Heat's little sister

Lethal Heat guns for her third stakes of the meet Saturday in the Del Mar Oaks. Trouble is, the 1 1/8-mile turf race is two turns, which is one turn more than Lethal Heat really wants.

Meanwhile, her 2-year-old full sister Heatology is nearing her debut for trainer Barry Abrams. Is the youngster anything like her older sibling?

"She wasn't, but she worked really well," said Abrams, referring to a five-furlong breeze in 1:00 last week.

Heatology is scheduled to make her debut the last week of the Del Mar meet.