01/14/2003 12:00AM

Starters fined for injuring horses


ALBANY, Calif. - Golden Gate Fields stewards have fined three assistant starters after having received complaints about the mistreatment of horses schooling at the starting gate during training hours. The stewards received four complaints but dismissed two of the cases.

The complaints stemmed from incidents that occurred last spring and summer at Golden Gate. The California Horse Racing Board also received other complaints that did not lead to charges, according to Bob Gai, supervising investigator for northern California.

The two cases that resulted in fines being issued were filed by trainers after their horses returned from the starting gate with injuries to the nose area caused by a metal shank, and with welts on their hindquarters caused by whipping.

In one case, assistant starters Vincent Sanchez and James "Randy" Cope were fined $200 each Oct. 30, for aggressive actions at the staring gate. In the other case, Todd Stephens was fined $100 on Dec. 11 for "failure to follow proper procedures."

Trainer Richard Miller's complaint about the treatment of Steven's Mercury on May 10 resulted in Sanchez 'sand Cope's fines. Miller said it had been 20 years since he had been involved in a "similar incident."

Miller said his horse's nose was so sore he could not put a bridle on for several days.

Trainer Cliff Delima's complaint regarding the treatment of Dick's Blockbuster on Aug. 30 led to Stephens's fine. Delima said members of the gate crew are sometimes too aggressive with horses.

Starter Chuck Burkes declined to comment when asked about the matter and said that track officials had told him to refer all questions about the four incidents to Golden Gate Fields management. Burkes did note that the gate crew was involved in "tens of thousands" of schoolings each year.

"We are looking into ways of being able to monitor what happens [at the gate]," said Richard Lewis, director of racing operations.

One possibility, according to Lewis, would be installing a camera at the starting gate in the morning, such as Los Alamitos has. The films could then be reviewed if the need arose.

"If we have the facts, appropriate actions will be taken," steward Darrel McHargue said. The board of stewards also has suggested that guidelines be drawn up for the gate crew for schooling procedures.

In the two cases that were dismissed, one was filed by a horse owner, and the second was uncovered by California Horse Race Board investigators as they pursued information in the first case. The charges were dismissed when evidence "failed to substantiate" the allegations, which were made long after the incidents occurred.

There have been no additional complaints filed in the ensuing four months since the stewards had their first official hearing.

Lucky Sabre exits hot maiden heat

Five 3-year-old fillies will compete in Thursday's Golden Gate Fields feature, a one-mile $50,000 optional claiming race.

Dancing Lee is the only entrant with a victory at one mile, but she has not run since winning a one-mile maiden race on Nov. 7. Trained by Kristin Mulhall, she has recorded six works after being freshened for a month, including three six-furlong drills most recently.

The probable favorite is Lucky Sabre, who lost by a head to Watch Out World in a six-furlong race on Dec. 4. Thursday's race will be her first try around two turns.

Lucky Sabre finished seventh in her Aug. 1 debut at Arlington Park in what was considered the best maiden race at that meet. She won her maiden in her second start on Sept. 29 at Bay Meadows before her runner-up effort to Watch Out World.

Topaz Jewel, third behind Watch Out World and Lucky Sabre, will also try two turns for the first time. She will likely try to set the pace.

Rotoga won her maiden in a 7 1/2-furlong race around one turn at Hollywood Park on Dec. 18, while Sanibel Sunset was fourth in the Dec. 28 Corte Madera Stakes at one mile here on Dec. 28.