02/25/2005 12:00AM

Weather has been a wet blanket for racing


ARCADIA, Calif. - Typical of many trainers in Southern California, John Sadler's training routine has been affected by the near-constant rain.

He needed to give Musique Toujours, the winner of the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic last month, a staunch workout to stay on schedule for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 5.

When the skies briefly parted last Sunday, Sadler moved quickly, working Musique Toujours seven furlongs.

Most trainers in Southern California have been in the same situation, scrambling to find ways to keep their horses fit. Some have been lucky to schedule workouts on dry days, and others have lost time or racing opportunities because of wet weather.

Rain has rarely been a problem here in recent years, and Southern California trainers do not typically have to deal with poor weather. Rain seldom falls from late April to early November, and recent winters have been so dry that drought conditions existed.

Through Thursday, track superintendent Steve Wood has recorded 40 inches of rain since the meeting opened Dec. 26, well above the average of about 10 inches. This year at Santa Anita, 25 of the first 46 days of the meeting were run on tracks listed other than fast. A Sunday in January was canceled after one race because of poor track conditions.

To protect the main track on wet mornings, management limited training to joggers exercising 30 feet off the rail. Many trainers opted to use the infield training track for horses jogging or galloping. Workouts were postponed.

The situation was similar at Hollywood Park. The main track was closed on some occasions, sending many horses to the backstretch training track.

"A few days we went to the training track," said trainer Bobby Frankel. "Some days we walked."

Frankel has Lundy's Liability for the Big Cap, but said his preparation has been badly hampered. Frankel has scheduled a workout for Sunday.

The weather has made it hard for first-timers to get ready and has minimized opportunities for turf horses. Seven stakes have been taken off the turf since late December, including two sprint stakes last Sunday - the Sensational Star and Daytona handicaps.

Sadler said the weather has affected his entire stable one way or another.

"The horses that are ready to run, I've gotten works in between the storms," Sadler said. "The maidens have been pushed back. I have a bunch of young horses we thought would be ready, and they're five or six weeks behind. But it's a long year. There are so many barns in the same boat."

As for his turf horses, Sadler said he has not asked much of them in recent weeks.

"There is no reason to push them if there is no racing," he said.

The weather has affected field sizes. From Feb. 19-21, three days run on off tracks, the average field size was 6.2 starters. Entries that were typically drawn late in the morning were not completed until early afternoon.

Trainer Jim Cassidy said he found out "that I have a barn of turf horses." Through Thursday, Cassidy had started 10 horses at the meeting and had one winner. He estimated the wet weather has cost him 20 starters.

At times, Cassidy said, the horses were desperate to do more exercise than just jogging or galloping.

"We took them jogging on the training track, but after two days they were trying to kill you," Cassidy said.

Wood is guardedly optimistic that the worst is over, but is worried that a "Pineapple Express," a week of storms, could occur in mid-March.

"I think the second half will not be like the first half," he said. "I hate to say that. Sooner or later, it has to be more normal."