04/19/2005 11:00PM

Here's hoping the grass is greener


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Four months after being forced to cancel turf racing on the final two weekends of the fall meeting because of unsafe conditions, Hollywood Park will have a limited schedule of turf racing when its 64-day spring-summer meeting begins on Friday.

For the first few weeks of the season, racing secretary Martin Panza said he will take a cautious approach, carding one to three turf races a day.

He said rain could lead to a quick transfer of races to the main track and that the temporary turf rails will be altered frequently to even out wear on the course.

By comparison, Santa Anita used its course for three to five races daily in the final two weeks of the winter-spring meeting.

Panza is hoping fewer races early will help the grass to grow and allow the course to thrive in June and July.

"The growth is there," he said. "It's starting to take off."

Last December, jockeys refused to ride on the course for the final two Saturdays of the meeting, citing unsafe conditions. The riders claimed the course was uneven.

During the winter, Hollywood Park fixed the uneven patches, Panza said. He said the course suffered last fall from poor drainage when the Bermuda grass went dormant.

"The grass wasn't using any water and we didn't get drainage," he said.

"There were some areas where the jocks were worried and we tried to fix that. It's hard to do that when you can't rip out the whole course. As long as it doesn't rain, we'll be okay. We'll keep in contact with the jockeys, and if we need to, we'll get out there and work."

Trainers have expressed concern about soft spots in the stretch and on the outside third of the course near the half-mile pole.

Hollywood Park covered a sizable section of the stretch with a tarp a few weeks ago to help promote growth. That area had a lighter color of grass and a softer feel than the rest of the course on Monday, but Panza was optimistic that four days of sunshine and would make the section firmer by Friday evening.

An area on the outside of the course on the backstretch is part of a test plot of grasses that could be used in the future, according to course superintendent John Barrios. It is not part of the racing path, but was used for workouts on Monday. Some horses jumped when they reached that part of the course.

The course was given a cautiously positive review from trainer Don Burke II, who worked Pellegrino on Monday. Last December, Pellegrino won the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup.

"Overall, it's pretty good," he said. "There are some soft spots."

Panza said having temporary rail settings at 10, 15, and 20 feet will help ease wear on the course.

"For the first month or so I'll move the rails around," he said. "I'll keep it where we think it's in the best shape at the moment."