02/01/2008 12:00AM

Weather worries for Sunday

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The possibility of rain late Saturday and early Sunday has led to concern about the prospects for racing at Santa Anita on Sunday and the start of a four-day renovation project scheduled to begin Sunday after the races, according to track superintendent Richard Tedesco.

Friday, Tedesco said that a quarter-inch to a half-inch of rain may begin falling before dawn Sunday. He said he was not sure how much rain Santa Anita's synthetic main track could endure before the track would have to cancel racing.

"That's a damn good question," he said. "We don't know."

Santa Anita has lost seven days of racing since early January because the Cushion Track synthetic surface has failed to drain after two series of rainstorms. Two additional racing days - Monday and Thursday of the coming week - have been canceled to accommodate the upcoming renovation project.

The maintenance project will add polymers and rubberized fibers from the Pro-Ride synthetic surface to the Cushion Track, which consists of sand, rubber, and fibers coated in wax.

Tedesco said the maintenance project would go ahead "unless we get a big downpour." He said it will begin within minutes after the final race on Sunday.

"As soon as we can get the track clear, we'll start," Tedesco said.

Ian Pearse, the founder of the Australian company Pro-Ride who is advising Tedesco and his staff on the upcoming maintenance project, said a minor amount of rain would not interfere with the project, but cautioned that delays were possible.

"We reckon we can do 15 percent moisture content," he said. "I don't know how much water makes up that percentage."

Pearse said the project will not be completed until Thursday night.

"Doing a track this size in four days is a big effort," Pearse said. "It can be done."

Pearse said that the first objective is to mix the polymers into the surface, a job that could take between 11 to 20 hours.

"No one can call an exact time frame because of the size of the track and the volume of material," he said.

The rubberized fiber will be added later, Pearse said.

In a memo released to trainers earlier this week, Santa Anita officials warned that racing on Friday was "possible" depending on how quickly the maintenance project is completed.

After training Friday, track maintenance crews spent more than an hour adding material and working on an area of the track near the eighth pole. On Thursday and Friday, trainers expressed concern about how level the surface was along the rail in that portion of the track.

Illness delays Country Star's return

A minor illness will postpone the 2008 debut of Hollywood Starlet winner Country Star, trainer Bobby Frankel said Friday. Country Star was tentatively scheduled to run Feb.o9 in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita, but Frankel said she came down with a temperature this week and would miss the one-mile stakes.

The next local alternative for Country Star is the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks on March 8, but Frankel stopped short of committing her to that race.

"If she misses the Santa Anita Oaks, she'll definitely be running in Kentucky," he said, referring to the Kentucky Oaks.

Country Star, an Empire Maker filly owned and bred by Stonerside Stable, is widely considered one of the top 3-year-old fillies in the country after winning the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland, followed by a 2 3/4-length win in the Hollywood Starlet.

Even without Country Star, Frankel will have an impact on the Las Virgenes. He plans to enter front-runner Lovely Isle. She was purchased privately by owner Michael Bello after a winning a starter allowance Dec. 6 at Aqueduct by 16 1/2 lengths. In her first start for Frankel, she finished seventh on Jan. 12 in the Grade 2 Old Hat at Gulfstream Park.

Frankel said that Turn Away, who took a bad step and was eased and vanned off Jan. 13 as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita, checked out fine and returned to training this weekend.

Sweetnorthernsaint makes '08 debut

The Florida-bred Sweetnorthernsaint was left out of the field for the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 26 because others were preferred according to the conditions of eligibility. As a consolation, Sweetnorthernsaint starts in Sunday's $250,000 San Antonio Handicap, and trainer Michael Trombetta thinks that the Grade 2 race may be a better spot for the 5-year-old gelding.

Santa Anita officials had to scramble last weekend to prepare the racetrack for the Sunshine Millions after a series of rainstorms.

"As it turned out, I'm fine with it," the Maryland-based Trombetta said. "They had some not-normal circumstances out there. It's a relief not to have been in that mess."

Sweetnorthernsaint, best known for winning the Grade 2 Illinois Derby and finishing second to Bernardini in the Preakness Stakes in 2006, is making his first start of 2008 in the San Antonio, which is run over 1 1/8 miles.

Sweetnorthernsaint is winless in his last four starts, since a stakes win at Laurel last March. He was later second to Master Command in the National Jockey Club Handicap at Hawthorne and second by a neck to Bob and John in the Lone Star Park Handicap before being given the summer and fall off.

The 2007 campaign "didn't go as well, but he ran into some solid horses," Trombetta said. "We caught Master Command on top of his game. We've kept some good company."

Sweetnorthernsaint finished sixth in the Holiday Cheer Stakes over six furlongs on the Polytrack at Turfway Park on Dec. 29, a race that Trombetta said was designed to give the gelding experience on a synthetic track.

Trombetta expects Sweetnorthernsaint to run well Sunday, and if he does, he could run next in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.

Daytona heading to Fair Grounds

Daytona, the leading turf horse in California, is leaving town. Trainer Dan Hendricks plans to send Daytona to Fair Grounds in New Orleans for the $150,000 Fair Grounds Handicap over about 1 1/8 miles on turf next Saturday.

Hendricks and the partnership that owns the 4-year-old considered running Daytona in Saturday's Strub Stakes or Sunday's San Antonio Handicap, both on the main track, but have opted to keep him on turf.

Hendricks said Daytona could make two trips to Fair Grounds. If Daytona runs well next weekend, the $500,000 Mervin Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap over about 1 1/8 miles on turf on March 8 is a possibility.

Daytona won the Oak Tree and Hollywood derbies in the fall and the Grade 2 San Gabriel Handicap against older horses on Dec. 30.

* Johnny Eves, winner of the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26, worked five furlongs in 58.20 seconds Friday, the second fastest of 70 works at the distance.

Johnny Eves, 4, is being pointed for the $150,000 San Carlos Handicap over seven furlongs on Feb. 16, trainer Jay Robbins said.

- additional reporting by Brad Free