Limestone wrecks careers

Jan 7, 2003 3:53 AM

ONCE AROUND THE TRACK: Citation, the great champion of six decades ago, won the Kentucky Derby five days after winning the Derby Trial. The amazing Seabiscuit raced a remarkable 35 times as a 2-year-old, 23 times at three and 15 times at four. The legendary thoroughbred ran in 89 races over six seasons, an average of nearly 15 times a year.

Those days are gone forever, and Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg knows why.

"Most good horses don’t race beyond four and most of the good ones don’t hold together," Van Berg said. "Nowadays, they have limestone bottoms under all the race tracks. I think they’re a heck of a lot more jarring. In the old days, they had clay bottoms and they had some elasticity to it if it wasn’t real dry. They didn’t seal tracks back then, either. If a track was muddy, it was muddy, and that’s the way it should be."

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Santa Anita track superintendent Steve Wood has his eyes on the skies and his ears tuned to the weather forecast, especially in January.

"Every day in January that it doesn’t rain is a day to our good side," he said. "January is the worst month, not only for rain, but for keeping the track dry. One-tenth of an inch of rain in January is equivalent to three-tenths in March, because the (January) days are short, the weather’s cool and we don’t get much sun."

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Hollywood Park’s racing surface has taken its criticism, but one horseman who favors training there is Ian Jory. "The track is really good," says the 44-year-old native of Hertfordshire, England. "I’m happy with it. I’ve always liked it. Not many people like to go there, but it’s a bigger track and much kinder to horses."

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The jury still is out as to whether talented jockey Corey Nakatani will find success with Scott McClellen, one of the nation’s elite agents.

"Scotty is obviously well-respected and a great agent," said the 32-year-old rider, who parted company at the start of the Santa Anita meet with Bob Meldahl, his agent of nearly 12 years. "We got off to a real good start," said Nakatani, who won five races through the first nine days, including the Pro or Con Handicap on Shalini. "Things are looking up. We’re starting to ride for a lot of the guys I rode for before.

"Working hard and coming out in the mornings to get on horses is going to make a difference," Nakatani continued. "My competitive drive is still high, even though I’ve had a lot of setbacks. I broke my collarbone, broke my ribs, got hurt at the Oak Tree meet when I was leading rider. Now I’m healthy again and my goal is to be leading rider. To do that, you have to ride a lot of races, and I want to ride them all. My job is to ride them and Scotty’s is to get me on all the best horses he can."

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Rumors that Simon Bray is about to leave the Southern California circuit because of the state’s exorbitant workmen’s compensation premiums are unfounded.

"I must have had six or seven people come up to me and ask me if I’m leaving," the 33-year-old native of Hertford, England said. "But I’m not. Things are good. I’ve got a few nice horses for (international thoroughbred magnate Robert) Sangster coming up, including Foreign Accent and Theater Script, and Secret Garden, who’s already won for him, and a nice 3-year-old filly I’m running soon, Morna’s Girl, so the barn’s pretty live. Plus there’s Master Belt (68-1 winner of Oak Tree’s Morvich Handicap) and Miss Puzzle, who was fourth in the Monrovia the other day, and some new shooters, too."

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When Bluesthestandard won at Santa Anita on New Year’s Eve, he became a seven-time winner in 2002, most victories in Southern California for the year by any thoroughbred. The 5-year-old Georgia-bred gelding was claimed out of the race for $50,000 from Mark Glatt by Ted H. West. Glatt wished the new connections his best.

"He’s probably the most amazing horse I’ve ever been around," said Glatt, who claimed Bluesthestandard for $10,000 last March 16 and proceeded to win four races with him as he ascended in class. He never failed to earn a check, finishing second four times, third once and fourth once in 10 starts.

"Contrary to all the reports and all the stories, the horse was never a cripple like he was made out to be," said Glatt, who turns 30 on Jan. 8. "He’s getting better and better, and I don’t know where he might level off. I love the horse. I wish Ted West all the luck in the world and hope nothing (bad) ever happens to the horse and that he’s retired some day. We claimed him for $10,000, made about $130,000 in purses and lost him for $50,000, $40,000 more than we gave for him. To be quite honest, even for $50,000, I didn’t want to lose that horse."

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And if you don’t think it’s tough to win at the races, ponder this lament actually heard from a player at Santa Anita: "I bet on two horses, won both races, and still lost money."