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HORSE RACING: GOOD REVIEWS FOR POLYTRACK IN OPENER.

Byline: ART WILSON

Staff Writer

DEL MAR -- Jon Court had just guided 2-1 favorite Special Smoke to a half-length victory in the second race at Del Mar on Wednesday, and reporters were eager to pick the jockey's brain about Polytrack, the track's new synthetic surface.

But the media didn't have to wait for Court to dismount to hear an opinion following the first race run over the artificial surface in front of an opening-day record on-track crowd of 42,842.

California Horse Racing Board chairman Richard Shapiro, standing outside the winner's circle, was good enough copy.

"Wonderful, just wonderful," Shapiro said. "You know why? They all came back sound."

The biggest argument in favor of artificial surfaces is that they are kinder on the horses, that there are less catastrophic breakdowns on the track and they make for a safer sport. Statistics seem to support those claims so far.

Del Mar shelled out $9 million this past year to adhere to the CHRB's mandate that all California thoroughbred tracks that conduct four weeks of continuous racing in a calendar year must install a synthetic surface by the end of 2007.

Court, who had Special Smoke fifth in the six-horse field much of the way but was always within four lengths of the leader before uncorking a nice closing kick on the outside, said it's too soon to tell how Polytrack is going to play.

"It feels good, but it's felt good since I started training on it in the mornings," he said. "It's a trampoline-energy type of terrain. I think it can be tiring. As far as any bias, that's yet to be discovered. Right now I think it's an even playing field."

While the new Polytrack played to mostly positive reviews, Hollywood Park riding champion Michael Baze loved Del Mar's Jimmy Durante Turf Course. The 20-year-old Baze won the first two divisions of the traditional opening day Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds aboard 7-5 favorite Ten a Penny for trainer Craig Dollase and the Art Sherman-trained Knockout Artist, a 19-1 long shot.

Vauquelin, an Irish-bred son of Xaar trained by Kathy Walsh, won the third division of the Oceanside by one length over Yario in 1:36.78 under jockey Victor Espinoza.

It's only the second time in DelMar's history that a stake has been split into three divisions, joining the 1969 Osunitas Handicap.

Espinoza, bidding to become the first jockey to win three consecutive Del Mar riding titles since Bill Shoemaker won six consecutive in 1949-54, and Corey Nakatani each won three races on the nine-race card.

art.wilson@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 19, 2007
Words:434
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