11/08/2011 3:31PM

Hollywood Park: Juveniles in focus as autumn meet opens

Barbara D. Livingston
Weemissfrankie could make a start in the Grade 1, $250,000 Hollywood Starlet for fillies on Dec. 10.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The theme at Hollywood Park has shifted. Turf racing remains essential to the autumn meet, but the stakes program is geared toward youth.

“It’s evolved toward giving 2-year-olds the opportunity to get ready” for next year, racing secretary Martin Panza said. “For a six-week meet, we’ve got a lot of 2-year-old stakes.”

No kidding. Eight juvenile stakes will be run during a 26-day meet that begins Thursday and ends Dec. 18. They include two Grade 1, 1 1/16-mile races – the $250,000 Hollywood Starlet for fillies Dec. 10 and $750,000 CashCall Futurity on Dec. 17.

“If you win it, you’re in the Kentucky Derby,” Panza said of the Futurity.

The Futurity has produced six Derby winners; the Futurity’s $375,000 winner’s purse assures a Derby berth. And this fall, both California 2-year-old divisions are wide open – colts and fillies.

The colt Creative Cause will not run until next year; the filly Weemissfrankie also is not expected to start at Hollywood, though trainer Peter Eurton did not completely cross off the Starlet from the list of options.

“Our bigger plan is the Oaks next year,” Eurton said. “We’ll evaluate her, and if the Starlet looks like a good idea, it’s not a throw out.”

The impressive Nov. 6 maiden winner Avarooskie, a filly trained by Brian Koriner, is not expected to start again until winter at Santa Anita. In the meantime, both divisions will gain definition in 1 1/16-mile stakes opening weekend – the $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes on Saturday and $100,000 Sharp Cat Stakes for 2-year-old fillies Sunday.

Panza believes the absence of the circuit’s top juveniles from the autumn meet opens the door.

“If the big horses are out, it’s going to create opportunities for someone else,” he said. “The [2-year-old] picture isn’t clear today, but it will be in three or four weeks.”

The turf division also is muddled; finding a favorite for Grade 1, $250,000 grass races at the meet is tough. The races are the Hollywood Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles Nov. 19, the filly and mare Matriarch at one mile Nov. 25, and Hollywood Derby for 3-year-olds at 1 1/4 miles Nov. 27. The Matriarch and Derby are part of a three-day Turf Festival.

Panza expects a handful of European and East Coast shippers for the turf races, though none were confirmed as of early this week.

“That will help [the Turf Festival], having different horses here,” Panza said.

A familiar challenge awaits Hollywood bettors. After two months of dirt racing at Santa Anita and Fairplex Park, autumn marks a return to synthetic. The main track at Hollywood is Cushion Track; handicappers generally agree the track plays fair. Over the past year, main-track favorites at Hollywood won at a 40 percent clip (207 for 505).

Hollywood’s wagering menu remains largely unchanged, with a notable improvement pick-five bettors will appreciate. The consolation (four of five) payoff has been eliminated. The net pool will be paid to tickets with five winners. In the unlikely event of a carryover, the pool carries to the following racing day.

The “Players’ Pick Five” features a 14 percent takeout and originated during the spring meet at Hollywood. The pick-five pool averaged more than $200,000 daily and carried over once during the 54-day meet.

The local horse population numbers more than 2,800 head, sufficient to fill races on the current schedule.

“Four days a week should help,” Panza said. “And when we go five days [last two weeks of the meet], it’s a seven-day break to Santa Anita. You would think people would want to get one more start in.”

First post is 12:30 p.m. daily, with three exceptions. Friday night racing is offered Nov. 11 and 18, with a 7:05 p.m. first post. Thanksgiving (Nov. 24) racing begins with an 11 a.m. first post.

The nuts-and-bolts Thursday card includes two first-level allowance races on turf. Senator Bob is the horse to beat in race 5 at one mile; Hakuchi can post an upset in race 7, a six-furlong turf sprint for fillies and mares.