07/17/2003 11:00PM

Surface takes heat


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - For some trainers, the Hollywood Park spring-summer meet is ending Sunday just in time.

In recent weeks, some trainers have criticized the dirt surface, saying that warm weather has created hard conditions and forced them to stop training some of their runners.

Some trainers say that their horses have been injured because of the track, and that as a result they won't be able to run at the lucrative Del Mar meet, which begins Wednesday.

Trainer Ian Jory, who stables at Hollywood Park on a year-round basis, said the surface has taken a toll on his horses. He has sent some of his horses to local farms for a month, and said they will not be ready for Del Mar.

"Last year, I had no problems," he said. "This year, it's the worst it's been. We're sending a lot of horses back to the farm to freshen up."

Opinions on the surface differed between trainers Doug O'Neill, who leads the standings with 36 wins, and Paul Aguirre, who has won 16 races.

"I've won a lot of races, but I've had injuries," Aguirre said. "I've had foot problems and problems behind and a couple of tendons."

O'Neill said his 60-horse stable, which ranges from stakes horses to maiden claimers, has been relatively trouble free.

"Knock on wood, it's been great. I think it's been a good track and fair," he said.

Complaints have not been as loud this year as last year, when track officials began a series of meetings with the California Thoroughbred Trainers Association in order to discuss track surfaces. One result was a request to add more water to the track.

Track president Rick Baedeker said he was aware of the criticism.

"The consensus had been the track has been good all meeting," he said. "With the hot weather, it's tougher to keep it in top shape."

Baedeker said one long-term solution may be shutting Hollywood Park for off-season training. But he admits that is a remote possibility that would be contingent on an expansion of the track circumference at Fairplex Park from five furlongs to a mile, which allow Fairplex to pick up more of the training load.

"What you're seeing is us running heavy equipment and horses over it every day a year," he said. "By the time we train in the winter and include equipment on it for it nine races a day, you have to ask, 'Is it too much?'

"By custom, we're open as a training center. We couldn't close without some place for these horses to be accommodated. We're not talking about turning the industry upside down, but I do think we have to reevaluate the offsite training process. I would much rather let the surface sleep through the winter and let it come back to life for the 65-day meet for the summer.

"This is a long-term plan. We haven't discussed it with other members of the industry. There's no question, not only has [the track] been better but there are guys that tell us don't touch it. Those are the guys that are putting up the best record."

Aguirre, for one, is calling for uniform surfaces throughout the circuit. Earlier this year, Hollywood Park altered the depth of its cushion to match the one at Santa Anita. Still, the two tracks have different compositions. Hollywood Park's surface has more sand.

"Last year was the first year we had a rough time," Aguirre said. "The real solution is all the tracks doing the same thing. In the interest of the horses and the industry they should do that."

Alvarado moves tack south

Frank Alvarado, the journeyman rider who has been among the leaders at recent meets in northern California, is the latest jockey to attempt to break into Southern California.

Alvarado, 35, is no stranger to Southern California. He has ridden in occasional stakes races here in the last year and was based here at various times in the 1990's. But last week, Alvarado left the northern California fair circuit to ride at Hollywood Park, and he is optimistic he can make an impact at Del Mar.

The retirements of Hall of Fame jockeys Eddie Delahoussaye, Chris McCarron, and Laffit Pincay Jr. in the last 13 months were factors taken into account by Alvarado and his agent, Brad Pegram.

Plus, Alvarado faced a nearly impossible task of dethroning Russell Baze from the leader's role on the northern circuit.

"Brad said it was wide open with McCarron, Laffit, and Delahoussaye retired," Alvarado said. "Russell is a nice guy and he has all the business. I was happy there and I like it there."

At the Bay Meadows spring meet which ended last month, Alvarado finished sixth in the standings with 31 winners. Baze led with 97.

Alvarado spent five seasons in New York and returned to California in 1998. Through Thursday, Alvarado had three wins from 20 rides at Hollywood Park.

This summer will mark the first time that Alvarado has ridden at Del Mar on a regular basis since 1991, the year he won the Del Mar Derby in an upset on Eternity Star, a 38-1 shot trained by Bobby Frankel.

Alvarado candidly admits that the win came when his career was marred by excess partying. A marriage and two children have contributed to maturity - and perspective.

"When you're young, you don't know what to do with the money," he said. "Now, I'm 35. I should have listened to everyone."