Updated on 09/16/2011 8:37AM

Bien Bien gets action going

Golden Apples is expected for the Grade 1 Matriarch on Dec. 1, where she may face Starine and Banks Hill. Pat Valenzuela will miss the meet's beginning.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - When the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting ended in July, Asong for Billy was just another anonymous maiden claimer toiling in Southern California.

When the Hollywood Park fall meeting begins on Wednesday, Asong for Billy starts as a leading contender in the $70,000 Bien Bien Stakes for 3-year-olds on turf.

Claimed on July 4 for $40,000 out of a maiden race by Ken and Alex Wong and trainer Paul Aguirre, Asong for Billy is unbeaten in his last three starts, including the Pomona Derby at Fairplex Park on Sept. 28.

Aguirre is reluctant to take credit for the three-race winning streak that Asong for Billy carries into the Bien Bien Stakes.

"We took the blinkers off and let him do what he wants to do," Aguirre said.

The Bien Bien Stakes will be Asong for Billy's stakes debut on turf and may determine his winter campaign.

The Bien Bien is the first of 24 stakes at the fall meeting, which runs through Dec. 22. The highlights include the six-race Autumn Turf Festival over Thanksgiving weekend and two major races for 2-year-olds: the Hollywood Starlet on Dec. 14 and the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 21.

One of the highlights of the Turf Festival will be the $500,000 Matriarch Stakes for fillies and mares over 1 1/8 miles on turf on Dec. 1. The race may draw Golden Apples, Starine, and Banks Hill and have major implications for the Eclipse Award for the nation's outstanding turf female.

Since the spring-summer meeting concluded in July, Hollywood Park has renovated the turf course and its main track in an effort to alleviate horsemen's concerns.

The turf course was resodded, and the irrigation system improved. The main track underwent a more substantial renovation, closing for two days in September to be reworked. During the summer meeting, the main track was widely criticized by horsemen who argued that it caused injuries.

Rick Baedeker, Hollywood's president, said the track's composition was redone in an effort to improve the surface. "We think that was one of the reasons the track was dead," he said, referring to summertime criticisms. "We had so little rain last year and the base was harder."

Aguirre is based at Hollywood Park and said he had 15 horses from a 30-member barn sidelined because of injury over the summer. Most of those will be back in coming months. He said the main track has met his satisfaction in recent weeks, while it has been used for training.

"It's been speeding up in the last few days as the meet approaches," he said. "That's my only concern."

The Bien Bien Stakes is a prep to the $500,000 Hollywood Derby on Dec. 1, one of the top races of the meeting.

To justify a trip to the Hollywood Derby, Asong for Billy needs a strong performance in the Bien Bien Stakes, which is run over a mile on turf and restricted to nonwinners of a first-place purse of $60,000 or more at a mile or over.

Asong for Billy drew post 10 in a field of 12. The lineup includes Azillion, the runner-up in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park last spring; Paxtecum, who was fourth in the Pomona Derby; True Phenomenon, a winner of a division of the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar in July; and Golden Arrow, who was fourth in the Del Mar Derby.

True Phenomenon is trained by Bobby Frankel, who won the 2001 Bien Bien Stakes with Mizzen Mast.

Asong for Billy is likely to stalk the pace, a style that worked in wins against maiden claimers at Del Mar, a starter allowance on turf and the Pomona Derby.

"I think I've just let him do what he wanted," Aguirre said. "I think he's better on turf and that he's a hell of a horse. I don't think this has been a fluke.

"We skipped the Bay Meadows Derby to go here. We would prefer a mile and an eighth, but I'm more concerned with giving this horse a long career rather than one race."

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