Updated on 09/15/2011 12:59PM

Sprint tops first card


POMONA, Calif. - The turns are so tight on Fairplex Park's five-eighths mile track that "sometimes you have to be lucky to get around there," noted trainer Paddy Gallagher.

Most of the time, however, you only need the best horse. The Los Angeles County Fair meet opens Friday for 18 consecutive days of racing, and Gallagher's front-runner Coil N Strike will try to make his own luck in the traditional opening-day feature, the $50,000 Foothill Stakes for 3-year-olds at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Nine entered the Foothill, part of the stakes-a-day program highlighted by the $100,000 Ralph M. Hinds Pomona Invitational Handicap on Sept. 23. The meet is the 63rd in Pomona and offers more than $4 million in purses, including $1.15 million for 18 stakes. Sandwiched between Del Mar and Oak Tree, the popularity of Fairplex Park is evident from an average daily handle that exceeded $5.8 million last season.

While future stars do sometimes emerge from Fairplex (Grade 1 winners Squirtle Squirt and Lazy Slusan won stakes here last year), the fair's charm is its purity - racing and gambling for fun and money. First post is 1 p.m. Pacific daily, and entry to the grandstand and clubhouse is included in price of admission to the fair.

There will be 12 races on most weekdays, 11 on weekend days, and few handicapping tasks more difficult than the opening-day Foothill. Coil N Strike and Bettor Royalty finished one-two Aug. 11 at Del Mar in a $62,500 claiming race for 3-year-olds, but several others entered the Foothill with an excellent chance.

Always the Lady and Sea Reel are fillies who like this track; Kinston is up from a sharp claiming win at Del Mar; Presidio Heights returns to his best distance, a sprint; Shining Nuggets is a stakes-winning comebacker; and Way to the Top adds more speed. Hot pace or not, Coil N Strike may be the one to beat.

Coil N Strike was claimed from a front-running win in which he earned an outstanding 92 Beyer Speed Figure. He was one of just two Del Mar horses (through Monday) to win a six-furlong race from the inside post. Coil N Strike's strategy is evident.

"He's got speed, that's for sure," Gallagher said. "You just hope you get a good trip." Gallagher already caught a break when the connections of Foothill nominee Rocky Bar elected to skip the race. Rocky Bar was coming off a third-place finish vs. older allowance runners, and would have given Coil N Strike more company on the lead.

Bettor Royalty's trainer, Bob Hess, sees two factors - improving form and a longer distance - as reasons why Bettor Royalty may make up the one-length deficit. "He'll run a bit better than last time, and at 6 1/2, they can come from out of it a little better than at Del Mar." Bettor Royalty has won 2 of 10.