12/04/2006 12:00AM

Times heat up in cool weather


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - No track records are safe this fall on the new synthetic surface at Hollywood Park.

With cooler temperatures in recent weeks, the track has quickened noticeably, often producing six-furlong times well below 1:10. In Saturday's Grade 3 Vernon Underwood Stakes, Sailors Sunset led throughout, finishing in 1:07.79. The time was the fastest of the meeting at the distance, and the fastest on the Cushion Track synthetic surface installed last summer.

The fast times are not a surprise to Dennis Moore, Hollywood Park's track surface consultant. He said such a scenario could continue through the end of the fall meeting on Dec. 18.

"As long as horses are safe and sound, I could care less about times," he said. "As long as riders and horses are happy, times are not important.

"The horses are coming back good. It has a life to it and seems to have bounce."

Quick times were common throughout Sunday's program. In the first race, $25,000 claimers ran six furlongs in 1:09.42, $50,000 claiming 2-year-olds ran six furlongs in 1:10.06, and a 2-year-old maiden special weight race finished in 1:09.49.

"In the cooler weather, we thought it would be faster," Moore said. "The cushion material tightens and you have bounce below that. I haven't heard anybody complain about it."

Moore said the warmer weather during the spring and summer may not yield such quick times.

"In the summer, when it warms up, the material may get heavier and we won't see as fast of times, but that's just speculation," he said.

There have been maintenance problems since the fall meeting began Nov. 1. The course was watered during the first week of the meeting, but trainers said that made the surface too hard. On Nov. 19, the racing program was delayed after jockeys complained that repeated harrowing had caused waves. Since then, Moore said the track is harrowed only a few times a day.

But each morning, Moore says, the track uses a "power harrow" that "digs up" the surface. The machine operates in a corkscrew motion and prevents the track from compacting, Moore said.

Opinions of the track were largely favorable Sunday among the three leading trainers - Jeff Mullins (16 wins), Doug O'Neill (15), and John Sadler (15).

O'Neill said, "It's firm, but it has a bounce to it."

Mullins said early Sunday that his stable hasn't had any problems.

"I've had five seconds in the last two days, and I can't blame it on the track," he said.

But Sadler expressed concern that the quick times could be leading to foot problems. He said he scratched Zanzibar from the Underwood and the well-regarded Exhale from a maiden race on Sunday because of foot issues. He said he has been surprised by a few instances of bruised feet.

"I'm seeing feet, and I'm seeing little things," Sadler said. "I still think the track is good, but they've had some issues with maintenance."

Sailors Sunset points to Malibu

Sailors Sunset, the winner of Saturday's Grade 3 Vernon Underwood Stakes and four of his last five starts, will be nominated to the $250,000 Malibu at seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Dec. 26, trainer Marcelo Polanco said Sunday.

Owned by Everest Stable, Sailors Sunset led throughout the Underwood. He was never threatened by a late run from Siren Lure, who finished second, and was not pressured early by Declan's Moon, who finished third.

The win was Sailors Sunset's first in a graded stakes. He ran in maiden claiming races earlier in his career.

"At 2, he didn't show anything," Polanco said. "At 3, he seemed like he changed. Sometimes, time is the main thing. I liked the distance, and the horse did the rest."

The Malibu will be much tougher, with the field expected to include Midnight Lute, the flashy winner of the Perryville Stakes at Keeneland in October.

The results of the past week have been the best of the year for Polanco. Through Sunday, he had won 10 races this year, three of which came last week - A Stare and Me ($119.90) in a maiden claimer for 2-year-olds on Wednesday, Asian Eyes ($27.80) in a maiden claimer for 2-year-old fillies on Thursday, and Sailors Sunset.

"I've got a lot of 2-year-olds," Polanco said. "The barn is full of young horses. I haven't been going crazy on racing."

Brother Derek, Da Stoops work

Two other candidates for the Malibu Stakes worked at Santa Anita on Sunday.

Brother Derek, the Santa Anita Derby winner who was scratched from the Hollywood Derby on Nov.o26 because of colic, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.40.

Da Stoops, who won the California Cup Sprint on Oct. 28 in his last start, worked six furlongs in 1:11.20, the fastest of 17 works at the distance.

Trainer Dan Hendricks said that Brother Derek could run in the $100,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes at a mile on turf on Dec. 26. Brother Derek has never started on turf. Hendricks said that Brother Derek's bout with colic was "a two-day deal."

Pletcher juveniles both score

Trainer Todd Pletcher swept the 2-year-old maiden races Sunday with a pair of well-bred colts - Ravel, by Fusaichi Pegasus, and Grapelli, by Thunder Gulch. Both winners were ridden by Garrett Gomez, who won four races Sunday and leads all riders at the meeting with 23 victories.

Michael Tabor owns both colts, and has Derrick Smith as a partner in Ravel.

Ravel won the second race by 3 1/2 lengths over the promising Level Red, finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.98. It was Ravel's second start following a second in a maiden race at Keeneland in October.

Grapelli won the second division by 1 1/4 lengths over Forward Commitment and was timed in 1:43.01. Grapelli is out of the French Deputy mare Bella Bellucci, who won five races, including three stakes, and earned $511,820 in 2001-03.

Pletcher said neither Grapelli nor Ravel will return in the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 16. Ravel "has showed he's got talent," Pletcher said. "We'll probably give him more time between races."

* Jockey Gary Stevens has parted company with the Little Red Feather Racing partnership, according to a statement released on behalf of the jockey over the weekend. Stevens had served as a consultant to the partnership, which has a stable of horses based in California.