Polytrack agrees with some, not others
DEL MAR, Calif. -- Polytrack, Polytrack, Polytrack. The day after the first Pacific Classic run over the new surface, it was all anyone could talk about at Del Mar. The synthetic era in Southern California obviously benefitted a horse like Student Council, who scored a 23-1 upset in the biggest race of the meet. But it likely will alter the program for Lava Man, who finished an exhausted sixth as the 6-5 favorite.
The 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic was run in 2:07.29, with a final half-mile in 52.48 seconds. And the field was spread out, with a gap of 4 1/2 lengths from the first to third horses, and 48 1/2 lengths from first to last. Lava Man was beaten seven lengths, meaning he needed about 2:08.50 to complete 10 furlongs.
For Student Council, though, the synthetic surfaces in California have turned him from a Grade 3 performer to a Grade 1 winner. With Santa Anita installing Cushion Track for its fall Oak Tree meeting that begins on Sept. 26, trainer Vladimir Cerin said Student Council would make his next start in the Grade 1, $500,000 Goodwood Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Sept. 29 as a final prep for the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 27 at Monmouth Park.
"He came out of the race super, just great," Cerin said Monday morning. "The Goodwood is our primary goal. It's another synthetic surface, and the distance will be no problem."
The Goodwood also could be a target for Lava Man, but his campaign will be reevaluated, according to trainer Doug O'Neill.
"We're going to have to regroup," O'Neill said. "A mile and a quarter is stretching it for Lava Man, especially over a track like that."
Asked if he thought the move toward synthetic surfaces in California was in Lava Man's best interests, O'Neill said, "It is in Lava Man's best interests in terms of training on it and keeping him sound.
"We have been blessed with a lot of speed-favoring tracks for his races," O'Neill said. "Oak Tree is going to be similar to Hollywood Park, which he won the Gold Cup on. It's a much firmer surface. And we'll look at turf races, too, as Polytrack races come up. I love training on Polytrack or Cushion Track. But are Lava Man's numbers better on turf? That's a possibility."
Lava Man merely walked Monday morning, with assistant Leandro Mora overseeing operations at Del Mar while O'Neill tended to his flock at Hollywood Park. According to Mora, Lava Man kicked a sawhorse with his left rear leg following the race and scraped the hair off his lower leg.
"It's not an open cut, but there's no hair there," Mora said. "He was probably really [angry] he didn't win. The track was not his best friend. If the race was a week before, when it was overcast, maybe that would have helped. But the last three or four days, it was really hot, and the track changed dramatically. But if I was Vladimir Cerin, I'd probably say the opposite."
Cerin, in fact, has been a supporter of the switch to synthetic surfaces, long before he won the Pacific Classic.
"I've been a proponent of it for three years, ever since I saw it for the first time on Keeneland's training track," Cerin said. "It's the best thing that's ever been done for racing. We're saving millions and millions of dollars in horseflesh. Del Mar stepped up. Field sizes are bigger. Handle is bigger. It drives me nuts that people are fighting it."
Cerin has had to make some adjustments to his training, and has an unusual prerace checklist that includes spraying the nonstick coating Pam on his runner's horseshoes in the saddling paddock.
"It must have been the Pam," Cerin joked about Student Council's success. "The surface can stick, so we spray their feet with Pam."