10/27/2008 11:00PM

Caution the watchword for opener

Barbara D. Livingston
Precious Kitten figures to end her career in the Grade 1 Matriarch.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - As soon as the afterglow wears off, horsemen will open a new condition book and return to reality. The eight-week autumn meet begins Wednesday at Hollywood Park, and the question begs - how much interest will opening day attract?

"We've never opened the Wednesday after the Breeders' Cup, so it's hard to gauge," Hollywood racing secretary Martin Panza candidly admits.

Still, some things are certain. They include Queen Ofthe Catsle firing Wednesday in the $65,000 Dance in the Mood Stakes; the three-day, $1.7 million Turf Festival offering some of the season's best turf racing; and a rich program for 2-year-olds.

"The strength of the meet obviously is the Turf Festival and the 2-year-old races," Panza said. "The festival, I feel good about. The 2-year-old stakes let people develop horses for the next year, and the CashCall Futurity, at $750,000, is a pretty good chunk of change."

Yet beyond stakes, the overnight purse structure was lowered for the fall meet. Because of a soft economy and uncertain future of Hollywood, the only option was to slice.

"I cannot be overpaid, because this could be the last fall meet," Panza said. "I don't think it will be, but it could be."

Hollywood has not committed to racing beyond the 2009 spring meet, and eventually it will develop the land. A slow economy, however, does not make an ideal time for development, and Bay Meadows Land Co., which owns the track, could remain in the racing business longer than anyone expected. The risk of potential overpayments forced the track to cut purses roughly 7 percent from last fall.

Still, all is not doom and gloom. Hollywood averaged 8.6 starters per race last fall and expects similar numbers this time around.

"If we stay above 8, I'll be happy. I think that's achievable," Panza said. "More importantly, I want to make the allowance races [fill] and let the better horses run. I think we've cut purses enough where I can afford to do that."

It would reverse the current trend. During the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita, low handle contributed to an overall decline in the quality of the overnight program. Panza will try to straddle the line.

"If I can stay about 8 [per race], I can use allowance races," he said.

The stakes program is safe, and includes the three-day Turf Festival on Nov. 28-30. The Grade 1 Citation Handicap on Nov. 28 is likely to include Breeders' Cup Mile's third-place finisher, Whatsthescript. The Grade 1 Matriarch on Nov. 30 will be the career finale for the Mile's fourth-place finisher, Precious Kitten. The Grade 1 Hollywood Derby also will be run Nov. 30.

The BC Juvenile runner-up, Square Eddie, is owned by J. Paul Reddam and expected to aim for the Grade 1, 1 1/16-mile CashCall Futurity on Dec. 20. The race is sponsored by the company Reddam owns. The filly equivalent is the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet on Dec. 13.

As for opening day, the best race is the Dance in the Mood Stakes, a six-furlong turf sprint for fillies and mares. Queen Ofthe Catsle has won four of her last five, including the Grade 3 Sen. Ken Maddy on Oct. 4. Since then, she has had only one three-furlong workout, which came on Oct. 23.

"When she had more time between races, I worked her harder, but it's only three weeks," trainer Howard Zucker said. "She didn't work fast enough to really be happy with, but she's so fit. She ran three times at Del Mar, and she just ran down the hill."

Victor Espinoza regains the mount on Queen Ofthe Catsle, who Zucker said would be freshened and aim for the winter meet at Santa Anita.

Her main rivals in the stakes include likely pacesetter Kalookan Dancer and potential upsetter Woodland City. Others enters are America's Friend, Eletro Nuclear, That's Hot, Captive Melody, and Peregian.

In race 4, a 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-old maidens, Galayo makes his debut for trainer John Shirreffs. Sired by Giant's Causeway, Galayo is a half-brother to Giacomo and Tiago. The favorites in race 4 are stretch-out I Want Revenge and Hurley's Way.