11/20/2006 12:00AM

Track maintenance problems persist

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Cushion Track, the synthetic surface Hollywood Park installed before this year's meet, has proven, as advertised, to need little maintenance. But for the second time this meet, apparently well-intentioned but overzealous maintenance led to problems, this time on Sunday, when one horse sustained fatal injuries during training hours, and the start of the day's races was delayed while the surface was worked on.

Racing did go on Sunday, though the nine-race card did not begin until 1:10 p.m. Pacific, 40 minutes later than scheduled. Approval to race was not finalized until shortly after 12:30, when one horse worked and three galloped over the surface, and the four jockeys who rode those horses said it was satisfactory.

"It's not 100 percent, but it's good now," said Victor Espinoza after he worked True Dancer a half-mile on Sunday. "Yesterday, it wasn't good."

Jockeys said the track worsened throughout the day Saturday. Hollywood Park's track maintenance crew decided to harrow the track after every race, and jockeys said the track developed ridges and waves that were more pronounced as the day progressed.

"You should take your skis out there," Garrett Gomez said after the featured Hollywood Prevue on Saturday. "There's dips one after another."

Work was done on the track overnight, but it was apparently even worse Sunday morning. Training was suspended Sunday morning after Circle the World, a recent arrival for trainer Todd Pletcher's barn, broke down while being ridden by champion English jockey Ryan Moore and had to be euthanized. Circle the World, 3, was fourth in the Iowa Derby earlier this year. By Fusaichi Pegasus, he was a half-brother to Hopeful Stakes winner Circular Quay.

"He had a condylar fracture, broke his pastern, and his sesamoids," said Justin Curran, who is currently overseeing Pletcher's West Coast string. "I was supposed to work two more, but I called Todd and said I wasn't comfortable. The track is too quick. It's like a conveyor belt in the airport."

Only 24 horses worked on Cushion Track Sunday before training was suspended, about one-sixth the usual number for a Sunday this fall.

At 9:30 a.m., trainers, jockeys, and track officials gathered in a backstretch horsemen's lounge to discuss the situation in an attempt to race that day and improve conditions going forward. Eual Wyatt Jr., Hollywood Park's vice president and general manager, acknowledged at the meeting that the track was "very uneven this morning."

"We're trying to sort this out," Wyatt said. "It's a new surface. The learning curve is steep. We probably did some things we shouldn't have done, and we probably didn't do some things we should have done."

Earlier this meet, trainers complained that the track - which had received rave reviews after its installation - worsened after it was extensively watered, another step in maintenance that was supposed to be eliminated with Cushion Track.

"We're trying to stay off with the equipment as much as we can," Wyatt said. "We didn't do that, but we will from this point forward."

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela said at the meeting, "I don't think it's safe right now."

At the meeting, it was agreed that after two or three more hours of working on the track horses would be brought out to gallop over it, and then a decision would be made on whether to race Sunday. Trainer Jenine Sahadi opined that galloping would not be sufficient, and lobbied for horses to work on it. Only Jeff Mullins volunteered to train horses over the track. He brought out the one horse who worked and the three who galloped after advising Hollywood management on what needed to be done to improve the track and closely monitoring the progress that was made to smooth out the ridges over the next three hours.

"I think we're going to be okay," Mullins said just before his horses went out with jockeys Tyler Baze, Aaron Gryder, Espinoza, and Gomez.

"We want this to work," Mullins said. "We've already got a taste of what it can be."

After racing resumed Sunday, no maintenance equipment was on the track until the card was completed.