10/11/2001 12:00AM

Trainers fear spongings part of a betting plot


ARCADIA, Calif. - Two trainers whose horses were found with sponges in their nasal passages on Wednesday at Santa Anita said they fear the incidents were part of an attempt to alter the outcome of a race.

A filly trained by Ed Moger Jr. and one trained by Frank Olivares were scratched from Wednesday's second race after endoscopic exams Wednesday morning revealed the presence of sponges. The scratched horses were the Moger-trained Spiderette, the 2-1 morning-line favorite, and the Olivares-trained My Sweet Lucy, listed at 6-1.

The incidents led the California Horse Racing Board to issue a two-page warning to horsemen late Wednesday, detailing new security measures.

The first sponge was found Tuesday in the Moger-trained Tonietta, who Moger says resembles Spiderette. Moger detected a breathing problem with Tonietta after she worked on Tuesday. After jogging her on a path, Moger had Tonietta endoscopically examined.

"I could tell there was something wrong," he said. "She had worked great. I thought she had an abscess in her nasal passage. I had the vet scope her and a sponge came out. I was stunned."

Spiderette was found with a sponge after she was examined at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. "I had the state investigators there and sure enough there was a sponge," Moger said.

Moger feels that whoever got at Tonietta and Spiderette may have been trying to affect the outcome of the second race, but that they could not tell the fillies apart. "They look so much alike," he said. "I think they just picked the wrong horse."

Olivares scoped My Sweet Lucy after she showed signs of mucus on Wednesday morning, and found a sponge. A groom later told Olivares of a small piece of sponge was found near My Sweet Lucy's stall early Wednesday.

"It's very cruel to do this to a horse," Olivares said. "They were never going to get a price. There were only six horses in the race."

After the Olivares and Moger fillies were scratched, and another filly was withdrawn due to illness, there were three starters in Wednesday's second race.

The situation has left Olivares furious because My Sweet Lucy has now developed an illness. "I probably won't be able to run her for the rest of the year," he said. "This had to have happened late at night. It could have been a dangerous situation."

On Wednesday, the CHRB instructed horsemen to have all horses entered endoscopically examined by a veterinarian, and told them that official veterinarians will manually check breathing passages during pre-race inspections. Horsemen were also advised to report suspicious activity to security personnel and CHRB investigators.

Moger said he does not have a night watchman, but does have stable staff who live at the barn. He said the incidents could lead to tighter security.