04/04/2007 11:00PM

Track confident pick-six pool will reach $1 million


ARCADIA, Calif. – Santa Anita will guarantee a pick six pool of $1 million on Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby program, and track officials are optimistic they can avoid a repeat of last month when the pool failed to reach seven figures.

On March 3, the day of the Santa Anita Handicap, the pick six pool took in only $925,725 in wagers. The track made up the difference.

Track president Ron Charles said the presence of the Magna 5, which links races at Magna-owned tracks, including Santa Anita, in a jackpot bet, affected the Santa Anita pick six pool on March 3. The Magna 5 closed at 1:40 p.m. that day, an hour before the start of the Santa Anita pick six.

On Saturday, the Magna 5 is not being offered.

“We’re more confident we’ll make it this time,” Charles said. “We’re not going against the Magna 5. There is no question that that wager affects our wager.”

Charles said Santa Anita did not purchase an insurance policy against a shortfall occurring in Saturday’s pick six, and did not have one in place last month.

Saturday’s pick six covers the sixth through 11th races, and is perhaps a tougher bet than the March 3 pick six. On Santa Anita Handicap Day, the pick six had two short-priced winners. Lava Man won the Santa Anita Handicap and paid $3.20 and Great Hunter won the Robert Lewis Stakes, returning $3.80.

Saturday’s pick six races all have 10 or more runners.

Last year, the Santa Anita Derby program drew an ontrack crowd of 54,189. Surpassing that will be vital to keeping up with last year’s attendance figures, according to marketing director Allen Gutterman.

“We’re down 1 percent in attendance,” he said. “This is a day that could put us either way. It was a big number last year.”

Charles said the attendance could be hurt by the absence of a well-known horse, such as Brother Derek, who dominated the build-up to the 2006 Santa Anita Derby.

“It isn’t that we’re not trying,” Charles said. “The TV buy is probably the biggest we’ve ever done.”

Valenzuela remains sidelined

Four months after he was sidelined with injury, former leading jockey Patrick Valenzuela has yet to return to the racetrack.

As recently as mid-March, Valenzuela told agent Jim Pegram that he intended to make a comeback from a knee operation conducted in December.

“He told me to hang in there and he’d be back,” Pegram said. “He’s been going to his girl’s soccer games, so he’s around. I haven’t talked to him in a couple of weeks.”

Valenzuela did not return a phone call seeking comment at his home on Thursday or one placed last week.

The leading rider at the 2005-06 Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, Valenzuela has not ridden since Nov. 26 after suffering fractured ribs in a paddock accident at Hollywood Park. While sidelined, Valenzuela underwent arthroscopic surgery on a knee in December.

In late December, Valenzuela said he was too sore to resume exercising horses. In February, he said he wanted to return to riding in early March. At the time, he said the knee had been “giving me a lot of problems.”

Valenzuela, 44, said that Dr. James Tibone, who performed the surgery, told him the knee would need longer to heal because of his age.

This is the second time in the last year that Valenzuela has been off for an extended period of time. Last summer, he missed two months, including the Del Mar meeting, after being hospitalized for part of that time for undisclosed reasons. Valenzuela spent time in a Pasadena hospital that specializes in treatment for substance abuse and mental health problems.

Valenzuela, whose career has been plagued by substance abuse problems, was allowed to resume riding at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting last fall after providing the California Horse Racing Board with information surrounding his hospitalization.

Valenzuela’s license expired at the end of 2006 and he is not currently licensed by the racing board. In the past, he was issued a one-year provisional license that allowed the racing board to perform random drug tests. Earlier this year, Valenzuela said he would approach racing board officials regarding his license as he nears a comeback.

Surface switch likely for Cantabria

Cantabria, the winner of an optional claimer on the hillside turf course on Wednesday, is likely to switch surfaces for her next start, according to trainer Bobby Frankel.

Frankel is considering starting Cantabria in the $100,000 Hawthorne Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic track at Hollywood Park on May 6. Cantabria, 4, won an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles there in December, her only start over that surface.

In Wednesday’s race, Cantabria rallied from fifth of seven under Richard Migliore to finish a half-length in front of Categorize.