05/23/2007 11:00PM

Trainers praise Santa Anita choice


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The announcement Wednesday that Santa Anita will install a Cushion Track synthetic surface this summer was met with approval among trainers at Hollywood Park, a venue that has received strong support from horsemen since installing a similar surface last summer.

Hollywood Park has a barn area operating at capacity this summer, with many trainers relocating from Santa Anita for the season. When Santa Anita installs a Cushion Track in August, in time for the start of the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting in late September, many stables will move back to that track.

"It will add some consistency that the two Los Angeles tracks have the same surface," trainer John Sadler said. "Guys can train where they want to train. I think it's a positive step."

The addition of a synthetic track at Santa Anita does not mean that Hollywood Park will be deserted. The largest stables will still have a presence at both tracks, while racing officials are hoping that a circuit of synthetic tracks, considered safer than conventional surfaces, will lead to growth for stables.

"I think most people are happy with the decision," said Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. "It's better for the handicappers. Hopefully, with the surface, we'll see an increase in the horse population over time."

Trainer Bob Hess Jr. divided his 40-horse stable equally between Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. He is hoping that the Hollywood Cushion Track will help Chinese Dragon, his star turf miler who starts in Monday's Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile.

"We brought the barn here for one reason - Chinese Dragon," he said. "It's been wonderful for him. Hopefully, he can be the poster child for Cushion Track.

"It's not cost effective" to have two barns, Hess said. "But after Del Mar, we'll have our base back at Santa Anita."

Trainer Doug O'Neill said he will continue to have stables at both tracks for his massive barn.

"If the horse could talk, they'd say, 'Please, give us consistent footing,'" O'Neill said. "I know some guys that love to handicap, and they have been confused as to how races will set up. This could help that."

Racing directors Martin Panza (Hollywood Park) and Mike Harlow (Santa Anita) said they will try to encourage stables from other states to race in California.

"I'm thrilled the two tracks are aligned together with the same surface," Panza said. "Through the next year, there should be more horses out here. The good thing is for trainers that split their stables they are on the same type of track. The dividends will be immense."

Del Mar will be the only Southern California Thoroughbred track without a Cushion Track surface. Del Mar installed a Polytrack surface this spring. It will be used for the first time this summer. Golden Gate in Northern California will install a Tapeta surface.

In 2008, Santa Anita will become the first track to host the Breeders' Cup on a synthetic track.

"Hopefully, it will help us," Harlow said. "I think it will be a benefit for the industry. If you ship out here, you can race year-round on synthetic surfaces."

There are trainers with reservations. David Hofmans, a trainer and a member of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said the two surfaces must be maintained in the same fashion.

"It's the first time that I can remember that Santa Anita and Hollywood Park will have the same surface," he said. "Horses stabled at the off track won't be at a disadvantage.

"My major concern is track maintenance. Being as involved as I have been here with the Cushion Track, I've come to believe that maintenance is important. I think [the Cushion Track] will do better in the cold, the rain, and the warm weather" at Santa Anita.

Awesome Gem heads allowance

Awesome Gem, winner of the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes at Santa Anita in January, starts in a $58,000 allowance race Saturday that could lead to a start in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on June 30.

Trained by Craig Dollase, Awesome Gem has not started since finishing last of eight in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap March 3.

"We've kind of freshened him up for bigger and better things," Dollase said. "He had done a lot in a short period of time. It was time to regroup."

Awesome Gem made four starts at the Santa Anita meeting, finishing second in the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort Stakes on turf on Dec. 26 and fifth in the Strub Stakes in February after the San Fernando.

Saturday's allowance race gives Awesome Gem a five-week gap to the Gold Cup, which is run over 1 1/4 miles.

"I like the timing," Dollase said. "I expect him to run a big race. The main objective is to get him back on track."

Saturday's race drew a field of seven. C'Mon Tiger and Racketeer are capable of winning.

C'Mon Tiger has won 3 of 4 starts since arriving from Ireland last winter. Racketeer was third in the Grade 3 Tokyo City Handicap at Santa Anita on March 31.

Pick six carryover boosts handle

After a record two-day carryover of $850,466 spurred interest, the pick six was hit for $29,775 by 99 ticketholders Wednesday.

Bettors added $3,745,697 to the pool Wednesday. The winners of the pick six races were Surf Town ($6.40), Warren's Devonlane ($25.40), Tycoon Doby ($12.60), Headcoach ($7), Idiot Proof ($2.80), and O Bee Naki ($7.60).

The pick six led to massive interest in the program. The all-sources handle reached $13,416,195, nearly double the typical weekday handle.