07/29/2007 11:00PM

Zayat says he's leaving grounds

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The debate over the merits and consistency of Del Mar's new Polytrack surface reached a new level of discourse on Monday morning when prominent horse owner Ahmed Zayat and Del Mar's president Joe Harper got into an animated, and at times profane, discussion near the stable area racing office that abruptly ended with Zayat saying he was going to immediately remove his horses from the grounds.

Zayat, who has most of his horses here with trainer Bob Baffert, had minutes earlier been expressing his concern over the consistency of the track. Baffert, Zayat, and several trainers have said Polytrack is firm in the morning, when coastal fog keeps temperatures mild, but loose and tiring in the afternoon, when the sun beats down on the surface.

When Harper walked by, Zayat asked to talk with him, with several onlookers nearby, including Baffert and prominent breeder John Sikura. But what began as a civil exchange over the approach toward maintaining the surface grew heated.

Zayat essentially wanted Harper to promise to tighten the track in the afternoon, perhaps by watering it. Harper said he was not going to go against the advice of Martin Collins, the company that installed Polytrack before this year's meet, which instructed Del Mar not to water the surface.

"I won't mess with it until after the meet is over," Harper said.

Zayat said: "I've heard what I need to hear. I'm not staying here. Goodbye."

Then he briskly turned and walked away.

"There's 300 trainers here coming up and saying they like it," Harper said minutes later. "Nobody wants to see this succeed more than the guy who invented it. We can't have 20 deaths like we did last year. We'll be out of business."

Zayat said he had between 25 and 30 horses currently stabled at Del Mar, with approximately three times that many at Saratoga. Before his discussion with Harper, Zayat said he had been planning on spending the summer at Del Mar because he preferred the atmosphere here.

"People who say they are behind these artificial surfaces say they doing it for safety, but they cannot be holier than the Pope," Zayat said. "The tracks have to be consistent. You can't have different tracks and say it's safe and fair. It's the epitome of hypocrisy."

Zayat said he was of the belief that "what distinguishes American racing is speed," but that Polytrack was "artificially slowing down" brilliant horses. "The way the Thoroughbred runs is so majestic," he said. "Why are we doing this?

"No one is against safety," Zayat added. "But what is the right surface? I'm totally supportive of synthetic surfaces. But you need a surface that is both safe and maintains the integrity of racing. You can't take the speed out."

Harper said the slew of horse deaths last summer at Del Mar and Arlington Park - which also installed Polytrack earlier this year - would "make us the Michael Vick of horse racing" if the tracks had not made a change.

"This is a safety issue for us," Harper said. "I'd love to see the track tighten up in the afternoon. Do we need more wax? That's possible. Do we need more fiber? That's possible. Do we need jelly cables? That's possible.

"The bottom line is all the horses are coming back" from the races in one piece, Harper said.

Baffert slumping

Baffert was the leading trainer at this track from 1997 to 2003, and was third last year, but through the first 11 days of this meet, he was 1 for 20.

On Sunday, his previously unbeaten 3-year-old colt E Z Warrior, owned by Zayat, stumbled at the start of the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap and finished eighth in the field of nine as the favorite.

"Luckily he didn't grab himself," Baffert said Monday. "It's frustrating for me not to have the same track in the afternoon that we train on in the morning. It's good to train on in the morning. It's firm. In the afternoon, it's different. I've got a few that love it, but the rest can't get over it."

Baffert's lone winner through Sunday's card was the promising 2-year-old Vindication filly More Happy, who scored a debut win the first weekend of the season. But Baffert said she would not run back at the meet.

"She struggled," said Baffert, who said More Happy had come out of the race fine. "This track, in the Bing Crosby, good sprinters went six furlongs in 1:11. What am I supposed to do here? Teach my 2-year-olds not to break and come running?"

Two fatally injured in turf race

While the main track may be slow and tiring, no horses have suffered catastrophic injuries on it in the afternoon. On the turf, however, three horses have perished this meet, including two from injuries incurred in the first race on Sunday.

Lyrical Sound broke down in her left front ankle near the finish of the 1 1/16-mile race while racing in third place. After passing the wire, her rough action caused jockey Michael Baze to tumble over her head.

Baze was taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, complaining of soreness in his upper left leg, but X-rays were negative, and he returned to ride the final three races on the card.

Lyrical Sound was led hobbling onto the horse ambulance, and minutes later was euthanized.

A little later, Mohawk also was euthanized because of injuries suffered in the race. She was pulled up on the first turn, but had suffered fractured sesamoids in both her front legs, track officials said.

On opening day, Mayor Bozarth broke down after being solidly bumped in a division of the Oceanside Stakes, and subsequently was euthanized.

Tiago works; next start undecided

Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago, who won the Swaps Stakes in his last start, worked five furlongs in 1:03 on Polytrack on Sunday for trainer John Shirreffs, who said he had not decided where Tiago would race next.

"He worked okay," Shirreffs said. "It was just his first work back. It wasn't too serious. You can't make any judgments off that."

Likely options for Tiago include the Pacific Classic here on Aug. 19, in which would face top older horses such as Lava Man, or the Travers Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga on Aug. 25, which is the next scheduled start for Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.

"We've got plenty of time to make those decisions," Shirreffs said.

* Jockey Clinton Potts was scheduled to resume riding on Monday after suffering neck injuries in a morning training accident last week, but he took off for the fourth straight day because of lingering soreness, according to his agent, Nick Cosato.

* Del Mar's stewards, "failure to make the proper effort to maintain a straight course in the stretch and causing interference" aboard second-place finisher Zann in the seventh race on Friday. Zann was not disqualified.

* The sixth annual golf tournament that aids the California Equine Retirement Foundation will be held the afternoon of Aug. 7 at the Del Mar Country Club. A dinner and awards ceremony follow. Information: 951-926-4190.