ONTARIO, Calif. -- Michal Brezina skated cleanly at Skate America to take a commanding lead in the season's opening event, even though he abandoned a planned quad just before taking the ice.
Skating next to last, the 21-year-old Czech substituted a triple flip-triple toe loop for his required combination in the short program set to Japanese kodo drum music and totaled 79.08 points Friday night.
"I was kind of scared if I will fit with the curve because the rink is not so wide," he said. "I almost hit the board in practice when I was going for the triple flip."
After seeing the number of falls and mistakes by his rivals, Brezina and his coaches decided to play it safe and leave out the quad. He plans to attempt two quads in the long program Saturday night.
"What can I lose?" he said.
Brezina, fourth at worlds, owns the lead going into the long program for the first time at a Grand Prix meet.
"Everybody always asks me what I'm thinking when I skate," he said. "I don't think because it's the worst thing you can do."
World silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka of Japan was second at 70.69. He fell on his quad and touched down on a triple axel before tossing in a different combination to make up points.
Less than a point separated second through fifth places on a night when third-place Daisuke Murakami of Japan was the only man to cleanly land a quad. He is coached by Frank Carroll, who guides Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, who dropped out of the first two events of the season.
"At the beginning of the season, I wasn't planning on a quad in my short program," Murakami said. "I hope I can start building up as the season goes along and put the quad-triple combination in the short."
Kevin Van Der Perren of Belgium was fourth at 70.09. American Richard Dornbush of nearby Corona, Calif., was fifth at 70.03.
Dornbush skated a mostly clean program, although the judges downgraded his landing on a triple axel.
"It's only the third time I've ever been downgraded on a jump," he said. "I definitely skimmed that one. It wasn't one of my best. Everything else I was extremely happy with."
Dornbush had only been practicing his short program to "The Fifth," an edgy take on Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, for three weeks.
American Armin Mahbanoozadeh, third at Skate America last year, was seventh in a routine with Led Zeppelin music. Douglas Razzano, a late replacement for Lysacek, was ninth in the 10-man field.
World champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White led the field after the ice dancing short dance.
The Americans skated a spirited Latin-inspired routine and earned 70.33 points in the opening event of the Grand Prix circuit.
European champions Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France were second at 61.07, although he tripped and fell.
German champions Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi were third at 55.66.
Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were sixth, followed by U.S. teammates Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello in seventh.