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Racin' in the Rain

Some of the new year's first big horse-racing action hit two tracks today with the Sunshine Millions series. Sponsors of this mini-Breeders Cup series must have had some pull with the California weather man, because our big Pacific storm cleared just enough today for the Santa Anita half of the races to be held. The Sunshine Millions is designed as an "east coast/west coast" duel between Florida breds and Cal breds. The six races -- turf, oaks, distaff, dash, sprint and classic -- were divided between Santa Anita and Gulfstream.

Right away the issue of safety for the horses was in the air, since the Santa Anita track hadn't drained well after days of being drenched by the rains. So the track was closed to racing for two days, and management pared off the top 2 inches of synthetic surface, leaving a surface that surprised everybody because it was so lightning fast. But this also left the asphalt foundation closer to the surface, so the track was harder, therefore riskier for the horses -- especially the youngest ones. Remarks by the ESPN commentators made it clear that some folks were worried, even though owners and trainers had seen their horses work on that surface in the morning. One colt was scratched because of owner concern about injury. Let's face it -- this was something of an experiment, so the track wouldn't have to cancel the big racing day.

The Goddess of Luck seemed to be looking out for all those equine legs, though -- especially in the speed division. In the 6-furlong dash at Santa Anita, 3-year-old Bob Black Jack did it like a Quarter Horse -- took a sizzling lead right away and won going away. It was a new world record over the distance, with a 1:06:53 and David Flores up. With the Kentucky Derby ahead, it's always a question how a talented speed horse will handle that mile and a quarter.

Meanwhile, there were no injuries ...that I heard about, anyway. These days, I always hold my breath. -- Patricia Nell Warren