04/19/2005 11:00PM

A fine turnout for opener

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The 64-day spring-summer meet at Hollywood Park begins Friday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hollywood Park opens for racing Friday, but beyond the spring-summer season, uncertainty clouds the Churchill Downs-owned track.

Wide speculation is the Hollywood Park property could be sold and the track closed. Officials from Churchill Downs have neither fueled the rumors nor smothered them. So when Hollywood opens Friday night for the first of a 64-day meet, it will be business as usual for racing secretary Martin Panza.

"I can't worry about it," Panza said when asked how a potential sale would affect racing. "Whatever happens, happens. I have a job to do as a racing secretary, and that is to put horses out there."

Mission accomplished for the first program of the meet. The nine-race nighttime card (7:05 p.m. first post) attracted 84 entrants, an average of more than nine starters per race. The race-8 feature is the $75,000 Harry Henson Stakes for 3-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf and includes two stables certain to make an impact during the meet, which runs through July 17.

Doug O'Neill, who runs the biggest stable in Southern California and was the leading trainer during Santa Anita winter, starts Dover Dere and White Pine. But the horse to beat in the Harry Henson is Osidy, a European import trained by Richard Mandella. Owned and bred by B. Wayne Hughes, Osidy is making his first start since October with solid workouts and European form that suggests he will be awfully tough.

"It's probably too short for him, but it's a start," Mandella said.

Osidy arrived in the U.S. late last year with a foot problem that required time to heal. Mandella may be underselling the chances of Osidy, a son of Storm Cat who won his first two starts and placed in a Group 3. Racing last year in France, Osidy won his debut going five furlongs and also won an allowance at 5 1/2 furlongs first start off a layoff.

A win in the Harry Henson would set an appropriate tone for the meet for Mandella, who trains the leading handicap horse in California, Santa Anita Handicap winner Rock Hard Ten, who won all three starts during the winter meet. Mandella is aiming Rock Hard Ten for the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 3.

The $750,000 Gold Cup has been restored to a handicap for this meet, which means borderline stakes horses will get a concession from the favorites. It is a cause for which racing secretary Panza has been lobbying. "I'm not saying we'll have 12 horses because it's a handicap, but it gives us some leverage," he said.

The Gold Cup card includes the Grade 2 Swaps for 3-year-olds and Grade 2 A Gleam for female sprinters and is a highlight toward the end of the meet. Track officials also will key other big days, including the $1.3 million California Gold Rush card on Sunday, a 10-race program for California-breds that features a $1 million guaranteed pick six pool.

The May 30 Memorial Day card includes two Grade 1's - the Shoemaker Mile, which could attract BC Mile winner Singletary and Leroidesanimaux, and the Gamely, a grass race for fillies and mares. On July 3, Hollywood will run five graded stakes, including the Grade 1 American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on July 3. Berbatim, a Mandella-trained horse who scored a smart victory April 9 in the Providencia at Santa Anita, will aim for the American Oaks with a June 5 interim prep in the Grade 2 Honeymoon.

Two other Grade 1's on Oaks Day include the seven-furlong Triple Bend and the Vanity for fillies and mares; the Grade 3 Royal Heroine for fillies and mares at a mile on grass; and the Grade 2 American Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf. The American Handicap will be marketed as a prep race to the Arlington Million Aug. 13.

"July 3 to August 13 is probably more in line with what trainers want to do these days," Panza said, referring to the six-week gap between the American Handicap and Arlington Million. The American Handicap competes for runners with the Grade 1 Eddie Read early in the Del Mar meet.

Overall, Panza said he will have about 1,800 horses stabled at Hollywood Park to fill races and a similar number stabled at Santa Anita. An influx of trainers from Arizona to Southern California includes Troy Bainum, Dan McFarlane, Kevin Lewis, and Molly Pearson. Northern California-based trainers Jerry Hollendorfer, Ed Moger, and Art Sherman are expected to have divisions at Hollywood Park.

During the 2004 spring-summer meet, the track averaged nearly eight runners per race, and Panza said he enters this meet with similar expectations. "I feel pretty good going into the meet," he said. "[Santa Anita] had a lot of rain, so there should be a lot of fresh horses."

At a glance

RACING SCHEDULE: 64 days; Friday through July 17. Dark Mondays and Tuesdays except May 30 and July 4

POST TIME: 1:20 p.m., daily and May 6. 7:05 p.m. Fridays except for May 6. Noon, July 3.

ADMISSIONS: (Includes parking and program) General $7, Clubhouse $10, Turf Club $20. Preferred parking $3, valet parking $8.

LOCATION: 1050 S. Prairie Ave., Inglewood. East of 405 (San Diego Freeway), north of 105 (Century Freway)..

PHONE: (310) 419-1500.

INTERNET: http://www.Hollywoodpark.com

Hollywood Park meet highlights

DATERACE, GRADEPURSE
SundayCalifornia Gold Rush$1,300,000
May 14Jim Murray Memorial Hcp.350,000
May 30Shoemaker BC Mile (G1)350,000
 Gamely BC Hcp. (G1)350,000
June 4Milady BC Hcp. (G2)200,000
June 11Whittingham Memorial (G1)350,000
June 18Californian (G2)250,000
June 25Beverly Hills Hcp. (G2)200,000
July 3American Oaks (G1)750,000
 Triple Bend BC Hcp. (G1)350,000
 Vanity Hcp. (G1)300,000
 American Hcp. (G2)250,000
 Royal Heroine Stakes (G3)200,000
July 9Hollywood Gold Cup (G1)750,000
July 9Swaps BC Stakes (G2)400,000