01/17/2007 1:00AM

Tontine Too prefers real dirt


ARCADIA, Calif. - The good allowance sprinter Tontine Too was supposed to like the new Cushion Track at Hollywood Park. Because of persistent heat in his feet, Tontine Too figured to appreciate the synthetic surface that horsemen believe is more forgiving than a standard dirt track.

But the all-weather learning curve continues, and before Tontine Too had gone a quarter-mile at Hollywood, trainer Howard Zucker could see things were not working out.

"He didn't really care for the synthetic," Zucker said. "He fell back, which was not like him. He wasn't one of those horses that jumped on it and loved it. I thought he would."

A flat third in the allowance, Tontine Too gets a chance to redeem himself Friday at Santa Anita when he returns to dirt in an optional $80,000 claimer that is the seventh-race feature.

Tontine Too, a front-runner, has trained well for his first start since Nov. 25 and catches a field that came up without an overflow of speed. Diamond Fury has some gas but returns from a 10-month layoff, and if Tontine Too wants the lead under Richard Migliore, he can have it.

A field of seven entered the 6 1/2-furlong race with third-level allowance conditions, including Zanzibar, Brooker, The Pharaoh, Swing Your Partner, and back-class closer Publication, the only horse in for the $80,000 claiming price. Tontine Too, a 4-year-old gelding who won his first three starts before the Cushion Track fiasco, might be the one to catch.

"He likes to hear his feet rattle," Zucker said. "He really relishes running over the top of the ground. We have high hopes for this horse."

The surface-switch dilemma also applies to the second race Friday. Five 3-year-olds, including likely favorite Level Red, race 1o1/16 miles in the first-level allowance. Grass-to-dirt Law Breaker, however, might be better than his turf form indicates.

Trainer Bob Baffert said Law Breaker was not working well on Cushion Track at Hollywood, so he ran him on turf in his Nov. 22 debut. He sprang an upset at 54-1, then returned with a game third, beaten a neck, in the Eddie Logan Stakes on Dec. 30.

"He's bred for dirt, and works good on dirt," Baffert said. "I think he's better on dirt."