11/06/2012 3:34PM

Hollywood Park: Autumn meet begins amid suspense over next fall

Benoit & Associates
Kettle Corn runs in an allowance race on Thursday's opening-day card as a prep to defend his title in last year's Native Diver (above).

This much is certain: There will be an autumn meeting at Betfair Hollywood Park for six weeks beginning Thursday and a spring-summer meeting starting in late April.

After that, the future of the historic racetrack is uncertain. There is a chance the property could be sold to real estate developers next year, which would lead to the cessation of racing. Then again, the track could still be running at this time next year.

The immediate future of the track will be better known in January, when Hollywood Park officials are expected to announce to the California Horse Racing Board whether it will conduct an autumn meeting in 2013. If not, the Southern California Thoroughbred racing calendar is expected to undergo massive changes, with Santa Anita taking a larger role and additional racing taking place at Los Alamitos or Fairplex Park.

In recent weeks, Los Alamitos officials have considered an expansion of its racetrack and the construction of additional barns to become a potential replacement for Hollywood Park.

For now, all of that is in the future.

There is a race meeting starting at Hollywood Park on Thursday, a season that will be conducted on a Thursday-through-Sunday basis through Dec. 16.

“We’re still in business,” track president Jack Liebau said. “We’re still trying.”

The autumn meeting includes four Grade 1 races, most notably the $750,000 CashCall Futurity on Dec. 15, a race that will provide vital clues as to which 2-year-olds are worth following in the buildup to the 2013 Triple Crown.

The first Grade 1 races are the Matriarch Stakes and Hollywood Derby on Nov. 25, the final program of the three-day Autumn Turf Festival and one of the highlights of the season each year. The races are likely to draw horses from Europe and the rest of the United States.

The $500,000-guaranteed Hollywood Starlet for 2-year-old fillies on Dec. 8 is the meeting’s other Grade 1 race.

Thursday’s eight-race program includes two allowance races – a turf race over 1 1/16 miles and an optional claimer over six furlongs for California-breds.

Kettle Corn, who won the Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park last December, starts in the allowance race on turf as part of a field of five. Trained by John Sadler, Kettle Corn was fourth in the Grade 2 Arroyo Seco Mile on turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 6. He has placed in five stakes in six starts, but is winless this year.

Thursday’s race is a prep for the Dec. 1 Native Diver, which will be worth $250,000. Last year, the race was worth $100,000. The purse of this year’s race has been enhanced by the Oak Tree Racing Association, which also has boosted the purse of the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap for fillies and mares on Dec. 8 from $150,000 to $200,000.

Those races will draw the interest of dedicated racing fans, those ontrack, and the swelling ranks following from home or via computers.

To increase ontrack business, Liebau said an effort will be made to attract customers from Southern California’s Latin community, through Spanish-language advertising.

Fridays will have a Latin theme through the meeting, he said.

To regenerate interest in the $2 pick six, which has been hurt by the popularity of the pick four and pick five in recent seasons, the track is guaranteeing the pool will reach $150,000 each Saturday. A $150,000 pick-six pool used to be commonplace, but that is no longer the case with interest migrating to the 50-cent minimum multi-race bets.

The meeting will be run entirely during the afternoons, beginning at 12:30 p.m. on all days but Thanksgiving, which will have a program beginning at 11 a.m.

There is no Friday evening racing this fall. In past years, racing had been held on Friday evenings in November, giving way to afternoon racing on the cooler Fridays of December.