11/05/2009 1:00AM

Vets keep close eye on all contestants

Barbara D. Livingston
Phil Gleaves says he's optimistic Mambo Meister, winner of the Spend a Buck at Calder, will run well while making his first start on a synthetic surface in the Dirt Mile.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The horses competing in the Breeders' Cup on Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting have been under constant watch this week by an international team of veterinarians led by Dr. George Mundy, representing the Breeders' Cup, and Dr. Rick Arthur, who is the equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board.

Arthur said the horses are looked at at least three times the week of the Breeders' Cup, then have a thorough examination the morning they are to race, which includes palpating joints and jogging.

Said Arthur: "A lot of horses are brought in who we are unfamiliar with, and trained by trainers we're unfamiliar with, so we try to get a feel for everyone so that everybody is comfortable with the process, with the ultimate goal of having safe racing.

"We try to look at the horses as early as we can after they arrive. If there's a problem, we talk to them about it, bring in their private vet. There's records of prerace exams for all the horses who have raced here. In England, they don't do prerace exams, so it's an unfamiliar process. Some horses have an odd way of going. It doesn't mean they're unsound. They just walk funny. Go down to the beach at Del Mar and watch people jogging and you'll see what I mean."

Arthur said the horses are examined without bandages. The veterinarians also watch the horses train in the mornings and at the barn.

"We try to see them in different environments," he said. "We try to look as often as possible. We're trying not to be intrusive of their regular schedules, particularly at this stage."

Last year, 156 horses started in the 14 Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita, and all returned safely. There were 155 entered this year, including six also-eligibles.

Track gets thumbs up

It is not uncommon the week of the Breeders' Cup to see several horses drop out as the long year takes a toll. But this past week at Santa Anita has been noticeable for the lack of Breeders' Cup defections, and there being no need, through Thursday morning, of the ambulance during training hours as horses prepped over the synthetic Pro-Ride surface.

"That's a testimony to the track," said trainer Eoin Harty, who is based at Santa Anita and is one of the supporters of synthetic surfaces. "How many ambulances have you seen out here? The racetrack is the scapegoat for a lot of people's frustrations."

Gleaves hopes Mambo Meister won't bounce

Trainer Phil Gleaves will break an 18-year Breeders' Cup hiatus when he saddles Mambo Meister as an intriguing longshot in Saturday's $1 million Dirt Mile.

Gleaves said he and his owners began considering the Breeders' Cup Mile on turf for Mambo Meister as far back as last winter. But when the horse won the Spend a Buck Handicap - a Win and You're In race for the Dirt Mile - at Calder on Oct. 17, they decided to go in this race instead.

Gleaves is making just his third appearance in the Breeders' Cup. He finished fourth in the 1990 Juvenile with Happy Jazz Band and eighth in the 1991 Juvenile with Devil on Ice. Entering the Dirt Mile, Gleaves is somewhat concerned about running Mambo Meister back in three weeks off what he thought was a career-best race in the Spend a Buck.

"Of course you always have to worry about when they run a new top how that's going to affect them, especially on three weeks, especially shipping, so that is something that is on my mind," Gleaves said. "But he seems to be doing well, he seems to be training well, he seems to be acting well, so I'm seeing no outward signs of a bounce."

Though Mambo Meister has yet to race on a synthetic surface, Gleaves has been happy with the way the 4-year-old gelding has trained over it this week.

"I thought he moved beautifully over it," Gleaves said.

Manoel Cruz will make his Breeders' Cup debut aboard Mambo Meister, a horse he has ridden to victory the last three times he has climbed aboard. The horse laid a little closer to the pace in his last race, something that may serve him well in a race without speed.

"Manny knows him so well and there have been times when Manny won on him from just off the pace and times when he's come from further back, so I think Manny will just have to read the race himself," Gleaves said.

Color-coded saddle towels debut

Much to the delight of everyday horseplayers who long have been accustomed to horses wearing color-coded saddle towels, this is the first year the Breeders' Cup is using the standard color-coded towels, i.e., No. 1 wears red, No. 2 wears white, No. 3 wears blue, etc.

For the 25 prior runnings of the championships, all saddle towels had been purple, the ubiquitous color always associated with the Breeders' Cup. An announcement was made in August about the change, with a BC media release saying input from its Fan Advisory Council and discussions with horseplayers had led to the change.

Turf Writer award winners

The National Turf Writers' Association honored several journalists for stories they wrote on the 2008 Breeders' Cup during its annual awards dinner Wednesday night in Altadena. Jay Hovdey, executive columnist for Daily Racing Form, won the Joe Hirsch Award for newspaper writing, while Jeff Lowe of the Thoroughbred Times won the William Leggett Award for magazine writing and Bob Ehalt of NTRA.com won in the new category of social writing.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee