04/23/2013 4:19PM

Hollywood Park begins what could be final spring meet

Benoit & Associates
Hollywood Park will begin its spring meeting on Thursday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The 2013 spring meet begins Thursday at Betfair Hollywood Park, where picking winners is easier than predicting the future of the racetrack.

Despite increasing likelihood the 75th anniversary season will be the final spring at Hollywood, racing secretary Martin Panza does not look beyond the current calendar. Is this the last hurrah for Hollywood?

“It is not for me to say,” Panza said. “Until they tell me we’re closing, we keep going along. Certainly, there is a lot of chatter that way.”

The Hollywood property is slated for future development, and track officials have not stated their intention to conduct racing, or training, past the 2013 fall meet that begins in November. As for 2014, who knows?

“It would be sad if this place goes away,” trainer Doug O’Neill said.

“It’s such a beautiful facility with so much history. I hope and pray we somehow figure out a way to save it. I keep staying optimistic that some Lee Iacocca will come knocking on the door and save the day.”

Until then, the only certainty is a four-day-a-week spring meet that runs through July  14. After a long winter at speed-friendly Santa Anita, Hollywood offers a refreshing change for handicappers and horsemen. As racing secretary, Panza hears it first-hand.

“Trainers have told me, ‘I can’t run half my barn [at Santa Anita] . . . I have no shot on that track because of the bias,’ ” Panza said. “Now a guy can say, okay, we’re going to run, because my horse comes from off of it and he’s got a shot.”

It is true. Front-runners dominate on the Santa Anita dirt-sand surface, but horses with all running styles win on the Hollywood synthetic-surface, Cushion Track.

“Not having the bias, allows horses to run,” Panza said. “I’m not saying every once in a while we don’t get a bias here, but over the 49 days we are going to run, it’s a pretty fair track, and the fairest track in Southern California.”

With approximately 2,800 horses on the circuit to draw from, Panza has sufficient numbers to work with. “Am I going to have 10-horse fields all the way through? No. But I’ll make it through and have decent days.”

A handful of Southwest-based trainers with more than 80 horses combined are expected, including Molly Pearson, Sandi Gann, Dan McFarlane, and Kevin Eikleberry. Midwest-based Cody Autrey is expected to have as many as 20 horses from Oaklawn Park at the meet.

Stakes purses have fallen in recent years, but Grade 1 staples remain.

The $250,000 Gamely Stakes for turf females, including Lady of Shamrock, is May  27; Include Me Out and More Chocolate are among filly-mare candidates for the $250,000 Vanity on June 15; Game On Dude could aim for the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9; the $350,000 American Oaks for 3-year-old turf fillies is July 13.

Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In races include two Grade 1’s on June 29 – the Shoemaker Mile for turf milers and the seven-furlong Triple Bend Handicap for the BC Dirt Mile. The Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap on July  13 leads into the BC Filly and Mare Sprint. Other highlights include the California Gold Rush for statebred runners this Saturday.

Hollywood eliminated night racing; standard first post is 1 p.m. The change gives Panza freedom to card 2-year-old maiden races on Fridays, including a statebred race for either gender this Friday. Previously, 2-year-olds did not run Fridays due to a reluctance to debut young horses under the lights.

Trainers Walther Solis and Mike Harrington will be active with 2-year-olds, including the second race Thursday, a 4 1/2-furlong race for statebred fillies. Harrington’s Yodelmesomemagic is a contender; Solis runs Debt Free Abby and Silver N Sassy.

“They both are live,” Solis said. “I’ve got a nice group of babies, better than the last couple years. This is one of the nicest years.

I’ve been looking forward to this meet.”

So have bettors, even if the $70,000 Harry Henson Stakes on Thursday came up weak and is led by a certain underlay. Peter Miller-trained Summer Exclusive will appreciate the class change from the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

This spring, change is good for horses, horsemen, and bettors. And racing secretary Panza will offer a diplomatic response to the question everyone asks – is this meet the final spring meet at Hollywood?

“We’ve been told we’re running this year, and we don’t know yet about next year,” Panza said. “I would imagine at the May board meeting, one way or another something will happen.”

The California Horse Racing Board meets May 23.

Casey Schleis More than 1 year ago
It should be a museum for all the champions trained there. Tragic.
Forego137 More than 1 year ago
Hollywood Park has one of the best racing surface's in Southern California and is the fairest of all the tracks (Santa Anita, Del Mar), and not only that it is one of the safest tracks for the horse's and jockey's, you don't hear about alot of break downs like you do at Santa Anita and Del Mar. Change is always good in the Sport Of Kings and going from S.A. to Hollywood Park and then Del Mar is what make racing good. With the closing of Hollywood Park it would change the industry forever and most likely ruin it further than it already is. You can't over race S.A. like Stronach want's everyone to believe because his bottom line is lining his pocket's and could care less about the safety of the track, Del Mar is racing surface is horrible, the only good thing is the beauty of being by the beach and the atmosphere by the beach, the track itself is just too small to accomidate big time racing and it only is suitable for the date's it currently has and that 's it. Not too much thought is being put into this decision and close Hollywood Park down and time will dicate that very bad decision it will have on Calif. racing as we know it.
Gerard Doise More than 1 year ago
The owners of Hollywood Park do not want to save the track. They want to do the same thing they did with Bay Meadows. Sell it and take the money and run.
Phillip Rodgers More than 1 year ago
Aka .. they r smart
Gerard Doise More than 1 year ago
I would like to add to the points you have made by pros, which I totally agree with. California also requires workers comp to be paid on all back stretch employees in California. There is also a higher tax rate along with a high take out. Owners in California have dwindled because smaller owners have a much harder time of existing.
wolves More than 1 year ago
Speaking for the gamblers (the good ones), we WANT track biases. One reason I stopped playing NYRA is because there is rarely any bias to the track. Ideally, the bias would change regularly from rail to outside, from speed to closers.
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
It could be saved , somewhat: Two 15 day meets, spring/summer & fall, tear all down to reserve/clubhouse, shorten track to 1 mile to south end, also barn area to a few stalls for shippers that day....still do all the building around, housing/shops et al ect...DOABLE
John More than 1 year ago
Prose, you are so right ! Whats sad, is the people in charge shouldnt be in charge! They have NO CLUE ! You need handicappers, some of the daily public on some of these decision making boards ! These idiots who are raising take out, charging $4 for water, $4 for a rubber hot dog should be banned from the race track ! My generation got started a very simple way, ALL my friends still play the races and we love it, but our generation isnt going to be here forever ! I sent Mark Verge(Santa Anita) a complete outline of what got us interested, it was a simple proposal, its a fun game, even for the newest player, but never heard back ! Sent George Haines a note yesterday(Santa Anita)........lets see if the change in management will respond or as usual, they just have all the answers and know it all as racing is slowly dying ! and fadddddiiinnng.............awwwaaayyyyyyyy ~
John More than 1 year ago
I have to agree to a certain extent, synthetics have made California racing almost un-handicapable, does that fit ! I grew up here playing the races, I mean, you could handicap, use the trouble line, the mud markers, the jockey/trainer aspect, but the difference between the tracks is night and day !Some run, some dont handle it, one day, not the next ! Hollywood is painfully inconsistent, Del Mar is brutal, on hot days its slow, on damp days its fast, and even Santa Anita is trying to stabilize its new dirt track ! Ive backed off alot of good sized bets just because of a horse switching tracks. Please dont tell me a good handicapper can adjust, we all can adjust, but poly has been the slow death of racing here in California ! I think its good riddens to Hollywood Park, its a dump now, next, lets get Del Mar and Santa Anita on the same page with track surface, get Del Mar back to DIRT ! ASAP !
prose More than 1 year ago
I disagree completely with Anonymous's comment that synthetic tracks doomed Cali racing. There are several factors why racing is doomed: (1) The proliferation of casinos. If you are a young man in your 20s or 30s with money to burn, and you're taking a girl out on a date or hanging with your buds, where are you going to go? The casino. (2) Racing's fan base is dying off. In my OTB 95% of the guys are over 65. (3) There are, literally, too many race tracks and not enough horses to go around. Small fields are not incentives to wager. (4) Racing never positioned itself to attract the youth market. (5) The vast popularity of the state lotteries took all of the numbers players out of the racing game.
Gary Camejo More than 1 year ago
A storied old race track would hate to see it go...remember the first breeders cup competition was run there.