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Fairplex Is Cure for Garcia


Matt Garcia, a jockey who found both mounts and wins scarce at the Del Mar meet that ended Wednesday, launched the 18-day Los Angeles County Fair season Thursday with three wins, one aboard Sea Reel in the $50,000 Bustles and Bows Stakes.

The three wins for Garcia at Fairplex Park in Pomona were one fewer than he bagged in seven weeks at Del Mar, where he rode in only 64 races.

"The thing I like about [Fairplex] is the opportunities that the trainers give me," said Garcia, who rode in nine of the 11 thoroughbred races on opening day of the mixed-breed meet.

The high-profile riders generally avoid riding at the fair, reason enough for Garcia to get the chance from trainer Caesar Dominguez to ride Sea Reel for the first time. Victor Espinoza, the leading rider at Del Mar, rode the 2-year-old filly in her four other races, the most recent a distant fourth-place finish in the Del Mar Debutante.

Garcia came under fire from track management, stewards and other jockeys at Del Mar, where his cocky, take-no-prisoners riding style was considered a safety issue.

"I don't think he's that rough," said trainer Mel Stute, whose Flying Rudolph finished second with Garcia aboard in Thursday's 11th race. "I guess he does try to be the cowboy out there. But he tries hard, thinks well and shows no fear. I think that no-fear part is what gets him into trouble all the time."

On opening day a year ago, Garcia rode in the race in which J.C. Gonzalez was killed after his mount broke down.

Asked Thursday what his thoughts were going into this opener, Garcia said, "It's something you just try to put out of your mind. You just hope for better tomorrows."

In 95-degree heat, Sea Reel, who had been second in the Sorrento at Del Mar and the Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park, beat My American Girl by two lengths, running 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17 3/5 and paying $4.60 as the favorite.

Martin Pedroza, last season's riding champion with 29 wins, joined Garcia as a three-race winner.

In the other opening-day feature, Iggy Puglisi rode This Tune Can Hum to his sixth win in nine starts this year, a seven-length score in the $50,000 Foothill Stakes. Trainer Montie Wickliffe has won two of three starts with the 3-year-old gelding since claiming him from trainer Bob Marshall for $62,500 at Hollywood Park in July.


Skimming, winner of the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, will try to knock off Lemon Drop Kid, the Whitney Handicap winner, in Saturday's $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park. Drawing the No. 2 post, Skimming will be ridden by Garrett Gomez. Lemon Drop Kid and jockey Edgar Prado will break from the outside in a five-horse field. Others in the race are Behrens (jockey Jerry Bailey), who drew the rail, and Ecton Park (Chris McCarron) and Gander (John Velazquez).

Another major winner at Del Mar, Riboletta, has also shipped in to New York to run in Saturday's $250,000 Ruffian Stakes. Riboletta, the Clement Hirsch Handicap winner, will be ridden by McCarron. Riboletta will carry 125 pounds, spotting the six other horses eight to 12 pounds. . . . Captain Steve, a 3-year-old, will race older horses Saturday in the $500,000 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. Golden Missile is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the six-horse field, with Early Pioneer 5-2, Captain Steve 4-1 and Cat Thief 7-2. Also running are Rize, at 9-2, and Jadada, who is 20-1.

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