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Although it’s old news by now (hard to keep up on my blog postings with six-day racing), the Joe Harper-Ahmed Zayat dust-up on Monday sounded like a doozy. In case you missed it, Del Mar CEO and General Manager Harper and high-profile owner Zayat got into a very heated debate during morning workouts on Monday (for full stories, I’ve linked Hank Wesch’s article from the San Diego Union-Tribune http://www.signonsandiego.com/sports/delmarraces/20070731-9999-1s31delmar.html and Jay Privman’s article in DRF http://www.drf.com/news/article/87151.html). Zayat complained about the slow times and suggested something needed to be done to “speed up” the track. Harper replied that Polytrack officials strongly suggest leaving the track alone (a “less is more” approach to track maintenance), and that the new surface has been extremely safe. He pointed to the fact that there have no fatal breakdowns during main track races, as compared to about 10 at this time a year ago.

I wasn’t there to witness it in person, but apparently a couple “f-bombs” were dropped and the normally easy-going Harper, who never has a hair out of place, got quite hot. Zayat threatened to pull his 25-30 Bob Baffert-trained horses from Del Mar and head East (which he subsequently did). I’m not crazy about the slow times (as I wrote early in the meet, the fastest sprinters on the circuit would run the Bing Crosby in about 1:11) but you can’t argue with the safety factor. And isn’t that the reason Southern California racetracks went to synthentic surfaces in the first place?

Harper’s track invested $9 million on this project and he’s not going to tinker with it during the meet. Everyone—trainers, owners, jockeys and handicappers—are learning how to deal with the new surface. For Zayat and Baffert (and possibly a small minority of other owners and trainers) to pass judgement after two weeks is extremely premature. And for Zayat to yank his horses off the grounds is like the spoiled kid who throws a tantrum and runs home, taking his toys with him.

Nice to see a Pick Six carryover into Thursday’s card after single-ticket winners three times last week…huge day for Joe Talamo, whose four winners on Wednesday moved him to within three of leading rider Michael Baze (18-15). Where have we seen this before?

Sunday’s Bing Crosby turned out to be a thriller as East Coast shipper IN SUMMATION nosed out 2005 winner GREG’S GOLD, with pacesetter BORDONARO tiring to third. Trainer Cristophe Clement might be without peer in his ability to ship a horse and win…NOBLE COURT was impressive beating older in his first start around two turns.

Overall, sprint races seem to play fair but it’s still been almost impossible for front-runners to win wire-to-wire in route races.

Final thought: Flashing back to a radio interview I did with John Ward (trainer of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner MONARCHOS) months ago, I asked him what it would mean to California racing if our circuit did go to synthetic surfaces (which had just been mandated by the CHRB). To paraphrase, he replied something to the effect that “it would mean quarter horse trainers would have to get up in the morning and actually start training their horses.” I took it as a thinly-veiled shot at Baffert—those two clearly had no love lost during the ’01 Triple Crown series. However, after looking at Baffert’s results over Cushion Track at Hollywood and through the first couple weeks over Polytrack, Ward’s words might have been prescient.

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