Updated on 09/16/2011 9:16AM

Three years later, a second chance


POMONA, Calif. - Front-running sprinter FJ's Pace has waited three years for redemption in the Aprisa Handicap, which he lost by a nose during the 1999 Los Angeles County Fair meet. On Wednesday, the wait may be over.

Trained by Doug O'Neill, FJ's Pace has had plenty of ups and downs since 1999, but even O'Neill admits the 7-year-old gelding enters the 2002 Aprisa with no alibi. "He's a horse that goes in cycles, and he's in a good cycle right now," O'Neill said. "He's doing absolutely beautiful."

He will need to be. FJ's Pace faces comebacking stakes winner Rocky Bar, the 120-pound highweight, and four others in the six-furlong Aprisa. F J's Pace and fellow 7-year-old Rapidough carry 118 pounds; Hyder carries 116; longshots Mistakenly Special and La Bandera are in at 114 and 113, respectively.

FJ's Pace enters the L.A. County Fair meet off a terrific second-place finish in a productive optional claimer/two-other-than allowance at Del Mar. The horse who beat FJ's Pace - O'Neill-trained Avanzado - returned to win a minor stakes and will be among the favorites next month in the Grade 1 Ancient Title Handicap during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita.

O'Neill is aware that FJ's Pace, who missed last out by 1 1/2 lengths in a six-furlong race run in 1:08.93, is a good fit in the Aprisa. "Off his last race, I think he'd be right there with them," O'Neill said.

Off his last race, he is the horse to beat. FJ's Pace has won 9 of 41 and should get a good trip behind likely pacesetter Rocky Bar. FJ's Pace has not raced since July, but has worked well for his return.

Hyder was claimed for $50,000 by Bill Spawr out of a sixth-place finish Aug. 2 at Del Mar. The 5-year-old Hyder came out of the race sick. Rapidough is making his first start since being claimed by Cliff Sise for $62,500.

Aside from their Aprisa contenders, Sise and O'Neill are excited about a maiden race early on the Wednesday card. In the fifth race, Sise starts Royal Siphon in the 6 1/2-furlong race; O'Neill starts Coax Kid. Royal Siphon, by Siphon, has worked well for Sise, who typically wins with a high percentage of first-time starters. O'Neill said Coax Kid, by Kissin Kris, might need a start but "we've got high hopes for him."

Early handle figures decline sharply

Los Angeles County Fair officials are grappling with an alarming 13 percent decrease in wagering handle this meet, compared to the first three days of the 2001 Fairplex Park meet. Total handle is off more than $2.8 million over last year, when more than $21.9 million was wagered on Fairplex races. Through the first three days of the 2002 meet, handle stalled at slightly more than $19.1 million.

"I wish I had an answer," said fair vice president of finance Michael Seder, adding that officials would be studying the situation early this week. Attendance at the fair is up over last year, but ontrack handle typically represents only about 12 percent of total handle. According to Dick Schellpfeffer, Fairplex director of mutuels, the decrease this year is across the board - ontrack, intertrack, and out of state.

The number of races run the first three days this year is actually up over last year. There were 33 races (combined mixed-breed and Thoroughbred) run the first three days of the 2001 meet; 35 races were run the first three days the current meet (including the mule match race).

Black Ruby beats Taz once again

Proving that sometimes people will bet on anything with four legs, Fairplex handled $71,894 in a winner-take-all match race Saturday between the racing mules Black Ruby and Taz. In win-only betting, Black Ruby attracted wagers of $43,017 and went off at odds of 3-10. Wagers on Taz totaled $28,877; he was even-money.

Black Ruby broke like a shot in the 350-yard race, but Taz overcame a slightly slow start to reach even terms at the sixteenth pole. Black Ruby was only toying with her rival, and edged clear to win by a half-length under Jim Burns. Black Ruby returned $2.60. Black Ruby won for the 49th time in 56 career starts; Taz finished second to Black Ruby for the 29th time. The two mules will meet again Oct. 6 in the $10,000 Fresno Gold Cup at 440 yards.

Pedroza, Rollins fined for scuffle

Oscar de la Hoya and Fernando Vargas were not the only two guys mixing it up Saturday. Jockeys Martin Pedroza and Chance Rollins engaged in a full-scale scuffle in front of the Fairplex grandstand after the seventh race. Rollins took exception to Pedroza's tactics in the race, which caused Rollins to steady while his mount was tiring into the lane. Rollins verbalized his displeasure upon dismounting.

When Rollins approached, Pedroza reacted, and the jockeys scrapped before quickly being separated. Sunday, Rollins and Pedroza met with track stewards, who fined each rider $300. Pedroza won the race on Girl Talk and Rollins finished last on Honor by the Bay.

* A $23 upset on Saturday's fifth race was the first Fairplex winner for jockey Baltazar Contreras, normally based at Los Alamitos. Contreras has been riding for a year, and has 39 winners.

* Jockey Felipe Martinez was suspended five days (Sept. 18-22) after an incident in the fourth race Friday that resulted in his mount, Skippingtomontanta, being disqualified from second to fifth.

* After three days of racing, three jockeys had a meet-high four winners each: Omar Berrio (from 12 mounts), Danny Sorenson (13 mounts), and Martin Pedroza (21 mounts).