You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family, the saying goes.
In horse racing, a trainer can pick his horses, but not his race track. If Bob Hess Jr. could choose his track, it would not be Hollywood Park. Perhaps it would be Santa Anita, where he makes his training headquarters.
"The two track surfaces are not as different as night and day, but as different as night and dawn," emphasizes the 35-year-old Stanford graduate. "Although sand has been added to Santa Anita, the track is still more dirt-oriented, but not nearly like Hollywood Park. Hollywood is like an East Coast surface in a desert. It’s Calder Race Course in a desert. At tracks like Calder, Aqueduct and Belmont, the surface is fine. I don’t say it’s good; it’s fine, because those tracks have to deal with so much inclement weather.
"But California is a desert. If we didn’t have irrigation, we’d have a desert, there’s no question about that. The Eastern surfaces are fine, but at Hollywood Park, there’s no way they can keep enough water on it and they don’t even try. At least back East, after training ends at 10:30, they bring water trucks out, put them on full-blast water release, then drive around and flood the track. By 11 every morning, the tracks look sloppy, like it just rained five inches. They realize they need sand, but at least they keep water on it, whereas at Hollywood, we think we need sand, in a desert, where there’s no rain at all. But they don’t realize that they have to keep water on it.
"At Hollywood, we have a triple-edged negative sword, if that’s possible. Santa Anita is too sandy also, but not nearly as sandy as Hollywood.
"In the old days, we’d send all our crippled horses to Caliente and Turf Paradise. They were the only two dirt tracks on the West Coast, besides Los Alamitos and Pomona. Horses would go there and stay sound. Why? When a bowed horse or a horse with a suspensory problem pushed off on a dirt track, it wouldn’t slip or slide. When the horse hit the track (with its feet), the track would actually bounce. There would be give to it, some resilience, some life in the track. At Hollywood, there’s no life in sand. It’s like stepping in quicksand. Horses hit it and sink in, and when they go to push off, they slip. I don’t know Hollywood’s trackman (track surface consultant Dennis Moore) at all. We talk to Steve (Wood at Santa Anita). He genuinely cares, but I don’t think he really knows, but he really, really cares, so I give him credit for that.
"But I think if Moore knew (how much the track needs water), at least he’d flood the track every day at 10 o’clock. The best Hollywood’s main track has been was when we had a little rain a few weeks back. The next day, it was awesome. If it rained an inch every evening, this track would be tremendous.
"As far as safety, it’s tough on bones and tendons. From a horseman’s standpoint, Santa Anita is significantly the lesser of the two evils. Hollywood is significantly worse. I think the best track is Del Mar. My theory on Del Mar is that it’s always been great, but it has a bad reputation for two reasons; Hollywood precedes it, so Del Mar winds up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but doesn’t actually cause problems that occur there. Del Mar’s track is over-populated with horses training on it, so you have to be careful about what time you train there. I’m a huge anti-Hollywood Park sandpit person.
"I put quarter horse toe grabs and turn-downs behind on all my horses running on dirt at Hollywood so they can get a better grip. That’s how much help I think horses need on this track.
"Hollywood’s turf course is another matter. It looks a lot better this meet. It’s very similar to Santa Anita and the best I’ve seen it in 10 years. I give it a double thumbs up."
As in Florida’s Presidential vote, Trevor Denman says selection for Horse of the Year 2000 is too close to call. "It’s so tough," said Denman, NBC-TV’s Breeders’ Cup analyst, who calls the races at Santa Anita, Del Mar and Fairplex Park. He presently is on a respite at his Minnesota farm until Santa Anita opens on Dec. 26. "This is like 1997, when (2-year-old) Favorite Trick won it," said Denman. It’s as though no horse should win it this year. Riboletta has only beaten fillies. Fusaichi Pegasus basically won (only) the Kentucky Derby. That’s playing him down. His win in the Jerome was good, he didn’t beat a Horse of the Year field. Tiznow would deserve it on his Breeders’ Cup Classic victory, but not based on what he did the rest of the year. Lemon Drop Kid is eligible to win it, but if you just took his last two races (distant fifths in both the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Classic), they were two bad ones in a row. Kona Gold, in a Horse of the Year context, won but one race, and that was the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. (His five other races this year were all in California, four of them wins). You can’t just race on your home track going six furlongs against the same opposition and be Horse of the Year. I wouldn’t knock any of them, but I wouldn’t like to vote for any of them, either. I would hate to be voting this year, but if I had to, it would be a very mild vote for Tiznow." . . .
Bobby Frankel plans to run Kentucky Derby and Belmont runner-up Aptitude against Captain Steve in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Friday. Coracle, winner of her last two starts in allowance company, is expected to go next in the Dahlia Handicap . . .
Kent Desormeaux said surgery that will enable his 2-year-old son, Jacob, to hear, went well. Jacob, born deaf, was operated on by Dr. John House.