12/23/2008 1:00AM

Surface switch a major move


ARCADIA, Calif. - The winter racing season is barely off the ground, and the handicapping notebook is full already. Now is a good time to clean it out.

Was the 2008 CashCall Hollywood Futurity the worst in recorded history? It certainly was the slowest - the Beyer Speed Figure of 86 earned by Pioneerof the Nile marks an all-time low, six points below the winning figured earned by the mighty Swiss Yodeler in 1996.

The only thing positive about Pioneerof the Nile is that he won despite racing against his preferred style. Garrett Gomez, cognizant of the speed-favoring surface at Hollywood, made an early move with Pioneerof the Nile that might have doomed a lesser horse. The colt deserves credit for winning despite circumstances, but he still has much to prove.

Chocolate Candy, third-place finisher in the Futurity, ran at least as well as the winner. Chocolate Candy raced wide, finished well, and is sure to appreciate the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita that is fair to come-from-behinders.

w By the way, Pro-Ride and Cushion Track are as different as night and day, and bettors can prepare for a radical shift in handicapping route races. During the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita, only 17 percent of Pro-Ride routes (10 of 56) were won by the pacesetter. This fall at Hollywood, 37 percent of Cushion Track routes (27 of 72) were won on the lead.

w What race was better - the Futurity or the Dec. 14 maiden win by The Pamplemousse? The 2-year-old colt went 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.43, a half-second faster than the 1:41.95 by Pioneerof the Nile. Though the colt was sired by Kafwain, trainer Julio Canani assures that The Pamplemousse "will run a mile and a quarter - he's huge." Stay tuned.

w Most of the time, it does not make sense to run a maiden in a stakes. But the improving maiden filly Lady Lumberjack may go Jan. 17 in the Grade 2, seven-furlong Santa Ynez for 3-year-old fillies. Based on a sharp second (with a Beyer of 83), Lady Lumberjack fits in the Santa Ynez, although the move is questionable. If Lady Lumberjack is a good horse, she can be treated like one. That means a confidence-building maiden win first, a stakes next.

w Rafael Bejarano swept the five Southern California riding titles this year. Unfortunately, bettors have fallen in love with Bejarano. His mounts repeatedly are hammered below fair value. The combined return on investment for Bejarano this year at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar is a paltry $1.51 for each $2 win bet.

A trainer was unhappy with a recent ride by Bejarano, and knew the jockey felt likewise.

"I always know when [Bejarano] rides a bad race because he starts speaking Spanish," the trainer said. "He speaks fluent English, but when it's Spanglish . . . not good."

* According to the Jockey Club, Feb. 1 is the deadline for naming foals of 2007. And by the way, the name Obama is unavailable. Neither is the name Palin, a 2-year-old filly by Medaglia d'Oro currently training in Alaska. That's not right. Palin actually worked five furlongs Dec. 18 at Skylight Training Center in Kentucky.

* Sleeper alert: Desert Eagle will make his U.S. debut for trainer Patrick Biancone early in the Santa Anita winter meet. A 2-year-old colt by Hawk Wing, he went 1 for 3 during a three-week period in October racing on synthetic surfaces in Ireland.

* Trainer John Shirreffs prefers dirt surfaces over synthetic. Disgruntled? Hardly. Shirreffs starters earned more than $2.5 million in 2006 and more than $3 million in 2007. In 2008, stabled in all-synthetic Southern California, Shirreffs is closing in on his first $4 million season. Shirreffs starters this year have earned $3,938,693.

Speaking of Shirreffs, the most intriguing matchup of winter probably won't happen. But wouldn't it be something if Shirreffs-trained Zenyatta and Bobby Frankel-trained Ventura hooked up Feb. 14 in the Grade 1 Santa Maria at 1 1/16 miles?

* Indian Blessing was crushed by Ventura in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. But if Indian Blessing wins a fifth graded sprint of 2008 in the Grade 1 La Brea on Saturday, her January-to-December campaign gives her a rightful claim to the female sprint championship. Ventura is a better filly, at least on synthetic, but her campaign included only two important sprint wins.

* If the maiden Tevez the Tiger springs an upset Friday in race 3, it would flatter Position A, who beat him by a nose on Dec. 6. Position A runs Sunday in an allowance sprint for 2-year-olds (race 3), and a visually impressive workout last weekend suggests he remains on an upward pattern. But the horse to beat Sunday in the first-level race is Dream of Kaylee.

* Zambezi Sun, a 4-for-11 Group 1 winner from France, will make his U.S. debut for trainer Bobby Frankel later this winter. Considering the sad state of the California turf division, Zambezi Sun figures to be even money or less wherever he returns.

* Into Mischief was to be retired after the Malibu Stakes on Friday. It is an unusually early departure for a 3-year-old who raced just six times. Perhaps owner B. Wayne Hughes and trainer Richard Mandella have one better. Crown of Thorns - remember him? - is on the comeback after cracking a shin last winter. He won the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes in February in only his third start, and could become an important older horse in 2009.

* Is there a bigger cinch Saturday than Saucey Evening in the California Breeders' Champion Stakes? Nope, didn't think so.

* The defection of Mr. Rod from the $70,000 Eddie Logan Stakes on Saturday boosts the chances of recent maiden winner Back at You. The bred-for-turf colt wired sprinters at Hollywood, and trainer Eddie Truman believes this son of Stormy Atlantic will improve on grass. Come and catch him.