01/03/2008 12:00AM

Storm may slow Well Armed


ARCADIA, Calif. - Talk about an immigration problem. The homegrown players intended for Saturday's $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita have a right to complain about porous borders. Three of the seven entered in the 1 1/16-mile main track event hail from Old Europe. A fourth is from Brazil, and a fifth, though foaled in Kentucky, did his racing in England and the Middle East until his people wised up and figured America was easier pickings.

His name is Well Armed, and he's a 5-year-old gelding who races for his breeders, WinStar Farms. Well Armed gets his name from his dam, Well Dressed, and his considerable size from his sire, Tiznow, the 2000 Horse of the Year who became that rare California-bred racehorse good enough to earn a shot at a stud career in Kentucky.

In his last appearance, on Nov. 11, Well Armed set a track record at Hollywood Park for 1 1/8 miles, but dont be overly impressed. You could have run a Labrador retriever over Hollywood's souped-up synthetic surface last fall and set some sort of record.

"I also had a filly break her maiden and set a track record, but it only lasted about an hour," said Eoin Harty, who trains Well Armed.

Well Armed raced eight times in Britain and three times in Dubai for Clive Brittain at ages 2 and 3 before getting a long break. He was sent to Harty in California last year, with a plan to take advantage of Well Armed's apparent affinity for synthetic main-track surfaces.

"I think we ran him about seven times on the grass over there before trying him on Polytrack at Lingfield," said Bill Casner, owner of WinStar. "He's pretty typical of the Tiznows, who sometimes can be too precocious for their size. It looks like the kinder synthetic tracks might let you bring them around sooner and still keep them sound."

That certainly has been the case with WinStar's top West Coast 3-year-old, Colonel John, a son of Tiznow who won the Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood and finished second in the Hollywood Futurity. Well Armed, from Tiznow's first crop, began his career in England in 2005 because there was a chance that grass racing would be more forgiving to his particular conformational needs. (He's sickle-hocked - like Native Diver and Sunday Silence - and pigeon-toed up front.) But Well Armed still looks good in a winner's circle, and now that he's going great guns in all-synthetic California, Harty thought he would be able to run the horse at will, beginning with the San Pasqual.

History tells us that horses from abroad are able to adapt to almost any kind of surface thrown their way, simply because they've encountered such a variety earlier in life. South Americans, especially, are known for their off-track affinity.

However, such handicapping angles were first dulled by sealed dirt tracks, and now they have been rendered pointless by synthetic surfaces, which are designed to absorb extremes in weather and emerge relatively unscathed. At least, that was how Cushion Track was sold to Santa Anita Park management.

The drainage problems of the Santa Anita surface were exposed last month after a brief rainstorm. Since then, there has been extensive renovation, and yet field tests have produced little in the way of encouraging results. Among track management, a major rainstorm has been dreaded, like a Biblical day of reckoning. That day has come.

"Well Armed is ready to rock and roll, armed and dangerous," Harty said. "But I won't run if the track is bad, and it doesn't look good. First, they said it was the storm of the year on the way, then the storm of the decade. Now they've upgraded it to the storm of the century, which is a bit unfair, since the century is still young. But if we get the storm of the century, nobody's going to be running anywhere."

Racing history also tells us that no matter what the track condition, someone always seems willing to run (see Breeders' Cup, 2007, Monmouth Park). The storm forming Thursday afternoon over the Pacific Ocean was sucking up water and bearing down on the coastline, slowly but surely. Big red blotches decorated the Doppler radar images on the Weather Channel website, and red is wet. Really wet. If the Santa Anita surface is not going to drain, it will need to be artificially tightened and sealed, which is exactly what track management and their Cushion Track vendors were scrambling to do Thursday morning. Harty captured the moment with an appropriate analogy.

"It's like when you made a cake, and it's turned out terrible," Harty said. "But instead of throwing it out and starting over, you keep keep adding stuff in hopes of changing the taste."

Of course, the storm of the century could blow over, and the San Pasqual could go off without a hitch or a scratch. Fat chance, though. This one's got folks gathering animals by twos and heading to higher ground.

"Sure, the odd miracle does happen," Harty conceded. "But it's a long year, and there will be plenty of places to run."

Let's hope Santa Anita is one of them.