Frankel: Synthetic
switch suits horses

Dec 12, 2006 1:28 AM

Bobby Frankel once called Hollywood Park’s main track "a horror show."

That was before Cushion Track and despite the fact that the Brooklyn native has made the Inglewood track his Southern California headquarters for years.

His opinion has changed since Hollywood installed the synthetic surface, which each major track in Southern California must do by Dec. 31, 2007, as mandated by the California Horse Racing Board. But Frankel still has reservations.

"It’s good," Frankel said of the Cushion Track, "but they just don’t know how to take proper care of it right now. It’s sort of a trial and error situation, and how the course plays depends on who takes care of it and how they take care of it."

With winter approaching and temperatures falling, Cushion Track has played faster than a speeding bullet recently. Horsemen were unanimously in favor of the new surface before it was watered the first week, but the water made it too hard, they said. Racing was nearly aborted on Nov. 19 due to undulations in the surface caused from too much harrowing.

"The weather has a lot to do with the faster times," said trainer Art Sherman, who is enjoying his best campaign this year. "When it’s colder, the wax in the synthetic mixture kind of condenses and it gives the track more bounce. But I really like Cushion Track. My horses have been staying sound and everything’s gone well since I’ve been training at Hollywood."

Frankel allowed as to how there is a slight difference between Cushion Track and Polytrack, which lists Keeneland and Turfway Park among the first major U.S. tracks to join the parade, but the most important advantage each surface offers is safety.

"It’s safer for trainers and it’s safer for horses," said international horseman Patrick Biancone, who had made Santa Anita his winter base in the past but will have 20 horses at Hollywood this season. "It’s the future of racing."

Still, it’s a work in progress. Horses which train on synthetic surfaces must adapt to traditional dirt courses, and visa versa. Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella says "a bit of a learning curve" has been necessary in adjusting to the surface, "but I’m happy with it." Biancone sees no significant deterrent.

"You see what happened in Kentucky this year," he said. "Horse trained on Keeneland’s Polytrack and ran on Churchill’s dirt course, and then they ran on Keeneland’s main track when Polytrack was installed on it, so I don’t see why it would be any different for horses training at Hollywood and running at Santa Anita."

Biancone saw no discernable difference between Cushion Track and Polytrack. "They’re both very safe surfaces," he said. "That’s the most important thing."

The homestretch

Frankel plans to run talented 3-year-old Latent Heat in the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on opening day, Dec. 26, but the Hall of Fame trainer says he has no plans to bring out Rafael Bejarano to ride for him on a regular basis this meet. Other Malibu candidates include Midnight Lute and Da Stoops for Bob Baffert and Arson Squad for Bruce Headley.

”¡ Sherman will run Siren Lure "seven furlongs or a mile" in his next start, at Santa Anita. Siren Lure was second as the favorite in the six furlong Underwood at Hollywood on Dec. 2. "You won’t see him sprinting anymore," Sherman said.

”¡ "Thor’s Echo winning an Eclipse Award as sprint champion would be very exciting and an honor," said trainer Doug O’Neill, who has the $2 million Golden Shaheen next March 31 as his long-range goal, with the Sunshine Millions Sprint on Jan. 27 as a prep.

”¡ What’s wrong with this picture? Jason Schmidt signs a three-year contract with the Dodgers for $47 million, more than $15.6 million a year. His record last season: 11-9.

”¡ Bobby Clarke, who resigned as Flyers’ GM on Oct. 22 after a combined tour of nearly 20 years at the helm, is back on board as senior vice president of the floundering team. Owner Ed Snider must have felt Clarke should earn his keep and not be paid for doing nothing, since the former Broad Street Bullies’ captain has a lifetime contract, along with former goal-tending great Bernie Parent, who led the Flyers to two Stanley Cup championships in the mid-1970s.

”¡ Is there really any need for five—count ’em, five—analysts trying to outshout one another on ESPN’s post-game show following Monday Night Football? And game color man Joe Theismann added to his record of infinitely uttering the inane words, "nice job." A "nice job" is done by plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc., not by offensive linemen or quarterbacks. They could "perform well" or "execute with precision," but they don’t do a "nice job." If the show’s producer had any knowledge or grit, he would tell that to Theismann.

”¡ If you can get "under 30" on wins for the Answerless Sixers or Uninspired Flyers, take it. That’s "under 30" combined, because neither team will reach 30 between them. They were sitting on 13 at press time and in an irreversible free fall. Call it the City of Brotherly Loss.Frank.