04/24/2012 2:23PM

Hollywood: 2-year-old racing, Cushion Track among meet attractions

Barbara D. Livingston
Switch will be pointed for the Grade 1 A Gleam during the Hollywood Park meet.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Rain this week in California will not put a damper on opening day of the spring meet at Betfair Hollywood Park, which opens Thursday for a 50-day season that many horseplayers welcome.

A bias-free main track and launch of 2-year-olds offer refreshing change following a long winter on the speed-friendly Santa Anita dirt. For bettors and horsemen who appreciate an occasional come-from-behind winner, Cushion Track at Hollywood is fine, thank you.

“This track plays pretty fair, and [Santa Anita] was sort of speed-favoring for part of the meet,” Hollywood racing secretary Martin Panza said. “There probably were owners and trainers over there that, if they knew their horse came from behind, they started waiting a little bit [for Hollywood].”

At very least, Panza begins the meet with sufficient inventory. “I am cautiously optimistic,” he said. “We have nearly 1,800 horses here, and I would imagine 1,000 [stabled at Santa Anita]. We’re sort of hovering about the 2,800 mark.”

[BETFAIR HOLLYWOOD: Opening-day PPs, video preview, watch live and wager]

It should be enough to fill a four-day race week that is standard most of the year in Southern California. Hollywood runs Thursday-Sunday through July 15, with holiday racing Monday, May 28, and Wednesday, July 4. Friday-night post is 7:05 p.m.

Hollywood altered its name in a marketing deal with Betfair, the wagering company in England that also owns TVG.

“They’re going to spend money fixing up areas of the building, so that’s a positive,” Panza said. “I imagine it probably means we’re not closing this year or next year.”

As for stakes, John Sadler trains Koast, the favorite Thursday for the $70,000 Harry Henson Stakes, a turf sprint for 3-year-olds. Sadler also trains older females Switch and Zazu, who will see action at the meet. Switch returns May 5 at Churchill Downs in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff, and will target the A Gleam for sprinters July 14 at Hollywood.

The A Gleam is one of three Breeders’ Cup Challenge races at Hollywood. Winners have BC entry fees paid and earn a travel allowance. The A Gleam is a Win and You’re In for the BC Filly and Mare Sprint; the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on June 30 is for the BC Mile; the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 7 is for the BC Classic.

The handicap division gets a boost Friday when Acclamation returns in the Grade 3 Inglewood. Grade 1 winner Game On Dude has resumed light training, while Morning Line, now trained by John Shirreffs, is gearing for a return May 5 in the Grade 2 Mervyn Leroy. Rail Trip, 2009 Gold Cup winner, is back in California with Ron Ellis.

Zazu will face Include Me Out in the Grade 2 Milady Handicap on May 19; Mr. Commons will race May 26 in the Grade 2 American followed by the Shoemaker Mile; Teddy’s Promise returns May 6 and also will target the A Gleam.

While the purse for the Grade 1 American Oaks was boosted from $250,000 to $400,000, a spring focus is always the juvenile program.

“That’s key, because if we make them it takes the pressure off the older horses,” Panza said.

The 2-year-old program can carry long-range significance.

“I love this meet, it’s where you start debuting your future Derby hopefuls,” trainer Doug O’Neill said.

I’ll Have Another won first out for O’Neill last July 3; Creative Cause won first out for Mike Harrington on July 16. Both colts leave Saturday for the 2012 Kentucky Derby.

O’Neill and Harrington will be particularly active in a 2-year-old program enhanced this summer with purse increases.

The Willard Proctor Stakes and Cinderella Stakes, 5 1/2-furlong races on June 16, had purses boosted from $70,000 to $100,000. Purses for the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile and Landaluce stakes, six-furlong races on July 14, were doubled to $200,000.

“Raising the purse on the Proctor, Cinderella, Juvenile and Landaluce is to reward people that race their 2-year-olds at this meet,” Panza said. “And we probably will add some [overnight] stakes in early June for 2-year-olds that have run for a claiming price.”

O’Neill, Harrington, and trainers Walther Solis and Gary Sherlock will be strongly represented in early 2-year-old maiden races. O’Neill said he has “about a dozen” he expects to start in the next month. Harrington is loaded with fillies, including O Happy Gray in race 8 Thursday.

The influence of young California stallion Awesome Gambler will be felt often. Sire of Santa Anita Oaks winner Willa B Awesome, Awesome Gambler was the state’s leading freshman sire in 2011 and sire of three in race 8 Thursday. They are Sherlock-trained Awe’ Some Kitten, and two trained by Solis – Awe Golly Molly and Kiptiddy Do.