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Last week I wrote that small field sizes at Santa Anita in the upcoming days would likely prevent any “Pick Six rollovers or big exotics scores with those type of paltry numbers”. Wrong. Despite short fields on Wednesday, no one hit the Pick Six, resulting in a carryover of more than $89,000 into Thursday’s card. Wednesday’s late Pick 4 returned slightly over $12,000. Thursday’s short fields produced another carryover, with $292,000 going into Friday’s card. Then on Friday there were 25 winning P6 tickets (returning over $45,000) before Saturday’s large fields produced another carryover into Sunday. The moral of the story? There is an assumption (by me and many others) that short fields will correspondingly result in short payoffs. But perhaps beating the obvious top one or two contenders in small fields results in exaggerated payoffs because of players’ natural reluctance to go deep in those races. Smaller Pick Six players are more likely to get involved on carryover days when the fields are shorter, believing they have a more realistic chance at competing with the big tickets, while possibly making an inflated score. We’ll see what happens in the next few days when horseplayers will be given a menu of embarrassingly short fields and low-quality racing. Aren’t you just salivating over Wednesday’s 60-horse card (59 betting interests), Thursday’s 59 entrants or Friday’s 63 entered runners? Who knows, maybe there is a score to be made after all.

FLIP FLOP: Have you ever seen so much flip-flopping as at this meet? I’ve noticed it with horseplayers who absolutely loved the synthetic tracks (particularly the Hollywood Park Cushion Track) but now have changed their tune to the point of vitriol now that Santa Anita’s version of Cushion turned out to be a disaster. Or with track management, which puts out one schedule for track repair, changes weeks, then adds and subtracts days to the point of complete confusion. We’re going to have Wednesday racing, we’re not going to have Wednesday racing (apparently the latest is that Santa Anita, seeing how the current horse population does not support six-day racing, will not be seeking additional Wednesdays for the upcoming condition book).

Now the latest from CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro on the possibility that Santa Anita may consider going back to a conventional dirt surface after its synthetic strip is torn up at the conclusion of the meet. Shapiro, who along with the Board mandated that synthetic tracks be installed at California’s major tracks by the end of 2007, is quoted in DRF: “If, at the end of the day, Santa Anita comes forward and said, ‘We’ve looked at the options and we believe for the safety of the horse and rider that we’ve got a plan to put in a dirt track on top of a good solid base,’ and they would put in a track that was safe, personally, I’m not totally opposed to that,” he said.

“I think we have to have an open mind. I think what you’ve seen, the synthetic tracks are successful, but clearly there are bumps in the road. I’m not favoring one or the other. I’m hoping that synthetic tracks are the answers. If there is a better option, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t listen to everything.”

I’m totally confused. So a mandate is a mandate unless a track doesn’t want to abide by that mandate? Bay Meadows negotiated a waiver since their days were numbered and they understandably did not want to invest millions on a surface that was going to be used for probably just one year. Del Mar wanted to put in Polytrack. But what about Hollywood Park, which likely did not want to invest millions on a surface that would have soon been paved over for condominiums if the real estate market had stayed hot. It seems that Santa Anita is now the tail that wags the dog, likely to get anything it wants from a Board that may be feeling remorse over a mandate that ultimately cost Santa Anita 11 racing days. The start-and-stop schedule has prevented any sort of momentum as The Great Race Place limps along through its most forgettable season since I began covering the races on a daily basis here in 1986.

To reiterate, my thoughts on the synthetic surfaces: From a gambling standpoint, Hollywood Park is my favorite track, largely due to the Cushion Track. I can’t speak for trainers (most of whom gave early positive reviews but now seem more divided on synthetics) regarding horse injuries but, to me, I see less horses breaking down during races. Field sizes had been up and Eastern outfits came West until the problems at Santa Anita discouraged some. Had Cushion Track makers put in a good surface in Arcadia, racing likely wouldn’t be having this discussion through 45-person synthetic panels. Most everyone would be happy, especially if Del Mar finds a way to “speed up” its Polytrack. I’m not ready to flip flop yet. I still think the positives of synthetic tracks can outweigh the negatives. Anything beats the rock-hard sealed surfaces we used to get during the rainy season, and horses were able to continue morning training through the rain last week. That wouldn’t have happened before.

Actually, my main concern is with the long-term health risks to horses and humans vis-a-vis the chemicals used in these tracks. I’m hearing that there is a groundswell of discontent from guys who work on the starting gate crew, patrol judges and others who work in close proximity to the surface. Since chemicals were added to alleviate the drainage problem, the track has taken on a strong odor, similar to the smell of hot tar used when a roof is being put on a house. As a personal aside, I spent 30 minutes trackside last Thursday when giving handicapping selections to a group of seniors at the Club Court area. The smell was somewhat overpowering and I left there with a splitting headache and the urge to wash my mouth out with Listerine. What happens if track workers (and horses) start coming down with strange illnesses in the next few years?

NOTES: The Big Cap is on Saturday, with an overflow field in prospect. Entries are being drawn at this moment, with a maximum of 14 able to run…I was very surprised that David Flores chose AWESOME GEM over MONTEREY JAZZ. Both are trained by Craig Dollase, but I never would have gotten off ‘JAZZ the way he won last time. Russell Baze, riding in his first Big Cap, will pick up the mount…Showvivor II starts tomorrow and I will resume giving out a selection on my website (under Free Pick of the Day)…Wednesday’s ontrack attendance of 1,990 is believed to be the lowest in the history of the track. In fact, SA didn’t break the 10,000 mark on either weekend day…through Sunday, favorites are winning at only 25% for the meet…Alex Solis looks rejuvenated out there. He won seven races last week (through Sunday), moving him into a tie for fourth place with 21 winners…congratulations to Richard Migliore, who was named this year’s winner of the George Woolf Memorial Award.

To View Free Samples of last week’s Premium Plays, click on the links below: Feb. 20Â Â Feb. 21Â Â Feb. 22Â Â Feb. 23Â Â Feb. 24Â Â Feb. 25

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