12/05/2008 1:00AM

Surface the question for Past the Point


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Synthetic surfaces have foiled Past the Point, a near-standout Saturday in the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park.

The problem is the 1 1/8-mile race is run on Cushion Track, which presents a major challenge, according to trainer Eoin Harty.

"My concern is I've run him twice [this year] on synthetic tracks, and he did not run well either time," Harty said, referring to off-the-board finishes at Keeneland and Golden Gate Fields.

Past the Point is one of eight older horses entered in the $100,000 Native Diver, race 6 on a card that includes the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup. While the issue of surface is a valid worry for Past the Point, he compensates with an up-front running style.

Though he is not likely to make the lead Saturday, Past the Point and jockey Rafael Bejarano should tuck into a perfect trip right behind the speed.

The pace likely will be set by Ball Four, the 119-pound topweight after wiring the Grade 3 Fayette at Keeneland, or Barber, a stakes-winning sprinter who carried his speed two turns last month winning an allowance.

The Native Diver also includes turf horses trying synthetic - Grade 2 winner Spring House and graded-stakes-placed Galantas.

While it is fair to question Past the Point's effectiveness on synthetic, the reality is it does not figure to influence the race. Cushion Track at Hollywood is far more similar to dirt than Polytrack at Del Mar, and Pro-Ride at Santa Anita.

On Cushion Track, speed carries; nearly half of the two-turn races this fall (21 of 46 into Thursday) had been won by a horse within one length of the lead after the opening half-mile. The profile plays to Past the Point's strength.

Past the Point has won 3 of 11, and finished only 1 1/4 lengths behind Curlin one start back in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga.

In his most recent start at the Meadowlands, Past the Point was compromised by insane fractions. One-two finishers Arson Squad and Anak Nakal rallied from the back of the pack; Past the Point tired to fifth.