02/29/2008 1:00AM

Zada Belle romps on return


ARCADIA, Calif. - Even though the races were nearly 17 months apart, Zada Belle remained unbeaten after two starts with an easy win in an optional claimer at Santa Anita on Friday.

Her easy victory by 4 1/2 lengths confirmed what observers thought of the 4-year-old filly by Indian Charlie when she beat maidens in October 2006 - that Zada Belle is a stakes-caliber filly.

"It was a good comeback," trainer Eoin Harty said.

In Friday's race, Zada Belle stalked pacesetter Newport Topper, who set early fractions of 21.83 and 44.82 seconds. Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Zada Belle ($2.60) moved alongside Newport Topper in early stretch, took the lead in the final furlong, and quickly pulled clear. She finished six furlongs in 1:08.86, a quick time on a track that has played slow in recent days.

Zada Belle was such a standout in a field of five fillies and mares that there was a minus show pool of $10,736.

Owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud, Zada Belle joined Harty's stable last fall. After winning her debut for owner Bill Peeples and trainer Adam Kitchingman, Zada Belle was purchased privately by Darley. She was in training at a farm in Kentucky before being sent to Harty.

Harty said he will confer with Sheikh Mohammed's racing managers before making any plans for Zada Belle's next start. One possibility is the $150,000 Las Flores Handicap for fillies and mares over 6 1/2 furlongs on April 6.

Synthetic track in good shape

Santa Anita's recently renovated synthetic main track will require minimal maintenance before the end of the current meeting on April 20, according to Ian Pearse, the founder of the Pro-Ride synthetic surface who conducted the renovation.

Pearse, of Melbourne, Australia, is visiting Santa Anita this weekend to inspect the course. Last month, he directed a five-day renovation, adding polymers and binders from the Pro-Ride surface to the existing Cushion Track surface that was installed last summer but failed to drain sufficiently following rainstorms. The existing surface combines elements of both surfaces.

"The emulsions and binder that we added is starting to work," Pearse said. "It has a bit more cushion to it. The horses seem to be traveling over it well.

"We want to do a bit more testing and look at the maintenance. There is not a lot to change."

Harty is one trainer who is pleased with the current surface.

"I couldn't be happier with it," Harty said earlier in the week. "This is the track I think they were going for all along. It took a circuitous route to get there.

"It's a very fair surface. It seems to be kind to horses."

Santa Anita lost 11 days of racing in January and early February because the Cushion Track surface failed to drain. Three makeup days were added to the February schedule.

Santa Anita president Ron Charles said last month that the existing track will be replaced at the end of the meeting. The track has not decided whether to install another synthetic track or a dirt track.

Pearse said Pro-Ride will submit a proposal for their surface to be installed.

Track to add races to existing cards

Santa Anita will add races to scheduled programs in coming weeks instead of adding additional days, general manager George Haines told the California Horse Racing Board on Thursday.

Last week, Charles said the track would not request additional racing days because of concern over poor field sizes.

Haines told the racing board that Santa Anita has not ruled out asking for additional racing days before the meeting ends on April 20, but will not do so "in the near future. We need to present a strong program to the fans."

Director of racing Mike Harlow said Friday that Santa Anita will run 10 or 11 races on some weekend days and might add a ninth race on some weekdays.

"Our goal is to run as many races on the weekends when the crowds are here," Harlow said.

At Thursday's meeting, Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau said he was opposed to Santa Anita presenting six days of racing in the month before the start of the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting on April 23.

Santa Anita's request to add races to existing programs was accepted by the racing board. CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro said that any request by Santa Anita to add racing days before the end of the current meeting would result "in a meeting to confer and discuss the horse inventory prior to the granting of additional dates."

Santa Anita will race Monday of this week, but will not resume racing until Thursday. Monday's eight-race program drew 68 horses, with two races drawing 11 entrants.

Coast Guard ankle worries

Coast Guard, second in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes last month in his stakes debut was "likely to be scratched" from Saturday's $200,000 Sham Stakes because of concern over an ankle, trainer David Hofmans said Friday.

Coast Guard trained Friday. Hofmans is considering waiting for the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows next Saturday or the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 15.

"He's not 100 percent," Hofmans said. "He hasn't been since his workout."

Hofmans was discouraged when Coast Guard worked six furlongs in 1:15.20 on Feb. 23.

Owned by Amerman Racing, Coast Guard has 1 victory in 4 starts, with 3 second-place finishes.

Into Mischief to miss San Felipe

Into Mischief, unraced since winning the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park in December, is suffering from a "deep abscess" in a foot that will prevent him from starting in the San Felipe Stakes, trainer Richard Mandella said.

It was unclear on Friday how long Into Mischief would be sidelined, but the injury is threatening to end his chances of starting in the Kentucky Derby on May 3.

"We're still fighting a foot," Mandella said. "We'll get to the bottom of it, but it's screwed him up."

Owned by B. Wayne Hughes, Into Mischief has won 2 of 4 starts. and $478,800.

Next start undecided for Zenyatta

Zenyatta, the unbeaten winner of the El Encino Stakes in January, still is on the fence for the the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap over 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita on March 9. Trainer John Shirreffs said he was not sure whether Zenyatta would start in that race or another race in the spring. Zenyatta breezed five furlongs in 1:00 at Hollywood Park on Friday.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman