04/16/2009 12:00AM

Hollywood lowers daily purse levels


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, which begins on Wednesday, will start with an overnight purse structure lower than last year's meet.

In an economy that has led to lower purses at all Southern California tracks, Hollywood Park has cut purses for maiden special weight races and allowance races as well as some claiming races.

For example, a six-furlong sprint for $10,000 claimers, will be worth $13,000, down $1,000 from last year. A maiden special weight race for 2-year-olds over 4 1/2 furlongs has been reduced by $2,000, to $46,000. A second-level allowance race over a mile has been cut $2,000, to $55,000.

Earlier this year, Hollywood Park announced it was cutting $1.5 million from its stakes schedule to preserve overnight purses. Among the stakes cut were the $250,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap and two $100,000 races - the Hawthorne Handicap and Will Rogers Stakes. Other stakes had their purses reduced.

The track's racing secretary, Martin Panza, said that the track wanted to avoid a severe cut to overnight purses.

"We tried to keep the overnight purses as high as we could to give the everyday guy a shot to run for some money," he said. "It seems like the right thing to do in this economy."

The meeting, which runs through July 19, has six Grade 1 stakes, two of which are worth $700,000 - the American Oaks on July 5 and the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 11.

There is significant concern on the circuit about field size. The Santa Anita meeting, which ends on Sunday, has averaged 8.24 starters per race through Wednesday. The corresponding meeting in 2008 averaged 8.65 starters.

It is not just a California problem. Aqueduct and Keeneland have had similar declines this month.

Panza said the available pool of horses in Southern California "has plummeted."

"Everyone has empty stalls, unfortunately," he said.

Last year, Hollywood Park averaged 8.25 starters per race. Maintaining that figure will be very difficult, but Panza is hoping for support from trainers with race-ready horses and clients hoping to earn prize money.

"It's going to be what it's going to be," he said. "We'll do the best we can with what we have. I don't think trainers can sit on a horse in this economy. I don't think there are any owners than can say, 'Yeah, give my horse two or three months off.' I think in this economy you have to run your horses when you can.

"With Santa Anita struggling, I think Hollywood Park will struggle, too. It's like that at a lot of tracks in America."

Talbot returns on his own

Shawn Talbot, a former assistant trainer to Steve Asmussen, will have a 14-horse stable at Hollywood Park this summer. Talbot, 39, is currently based at Turf Paradise.

He said a majority of the horses for his Hollywood Park stable are owned by Stuart Tsujimoto, who has campaigned horses in California for years.

"I just needed the right stock," Talbot said.

Talbot, whose stable was based at Canterbury Park and Hawthorne last summer and fall, has a background in California racing, having worked for trainer Ian Jory in the 1990s. Talbot had his first winner at Bay Meadows in 1994, before joining Asmussen's team.

Just six for San Juan Capistrano

The $200,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap on Sunday will have its smallest field in nine years.

There were six horses entered on Thursday, including defending champion Big Booster. There were five runners in 2000. The 2007 and 2008 runnings had seven starters.

The Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano is run over about 1 3/4 miles on turf, making it the longest stakes race in California.