05/23/2012 2:42PM

Hollywood Park notes: O'Neill off to slow start on home front

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Doug O'Neill is off to a slow start at Betfair Hollywood Park, with just two wins from 16 starters.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – This spring, trainer Doug O’Neill has had as many winners in the Triple Crown as he has in the first four weeks of the Betfair Hollywood Park meeting.

While I’ll Have Another’s popular success in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes has left O’Neill at the top of racing, his Hollywood Park meeting has been slow. He has two wins with 16 starters through Sunday.

“It’s been quiet, but at the same time we’re part of some pretty cool history going on,” he said earlier this week.

Slowly, he says, the activity will increase on the home front.

O’Neill considered starting Willyconker in Saturday’s $150,000 American Handicap over a mile on turf, but did not enter the 5-year-old gelding on Wednesday. Willyconker won the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita on March 3, the day of the Santa Anita Handicap. (It was also a day in which I’ll Have Another worked between races).

O’Neill, who was to turn 44 on Thursday, spent Wednesday morning at Santa Anita. He said that Willyconker’s entry for the American was withdrawn after he discussed the stable’s morning activity at Hollywood Park with his assistant, Leandro Mora.

“Leandro didn’t like the way he trained, so we didn’t enter,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill has 75 horses in Southern California, about 55 at Hollywood Park and approximately 20 at Santa Anita. He expects to have more runners as the Hollywood Park meeting progresses.

“It’s been a little slow at home,” he said. “I didn’t want to run anything that I wasn’t on top of and part of the doings here. If they’re fit and ready, we’ll enter. If not, we’ll wait.”

Friday evening, O’Neill has two starters – Close to the Edge in the fourth race, a $40,000 claimer over six furlongs, and Halfapondarosa in the fifth, a $25,000 claimer over six furlongs on turf. Both horses lost their last starts, but were winners in their preceding races.

They fit O’Neill’s current approach of starting horses when they are best suited to upcoming races.

“We owe it to our owners to make sure that we’re really diligent as ever to place them in their right spots and not running horses just to fill races,” he said.

Last summer, O’Neill finished seventh in the trainer’s standings at the Hollywood Park meeting with 13 winners. There is ample time before the meeting ends on July 15 to equal or surpass that number.

Mr. Commons tops American

The American Handicap field is led by Mr. Commons, who was second to Willyconker in the Frank Kilroe Mile.

Mr. Commons is part of an expected field of 11 in the Grade 2 American.

The other candidates are Barney Rebel, Calimonco, Compari, Great Warrior, Liberian Freighter, Mobilized, Soul Candy, Tigah, Venomous, and Wilkinson.

Stra pregnant, stops race riding

Jockey Kayla Stra is interrupting her riding career for the foreseeable future, she said last weekend. Stra is pregnant.

The 27-year-old native of Australia said she is expecting her first child in December with boyfriend (and trainer) Gus Headley. Stra, 27, has won 114 races in the United States since moving to this country in late 2007. The list of winners includes horses trained by Headley.

Stra said she plans to continue galloping in coming weeks but will be forced to give that up as the pregnancy continues. She plans a comeback and said the time off will be appreciated.

“I’ve been riding for 10 years now,” she said.

While Kayla is on the sidelines, another Stra remains active. Her 25-year-old sister, Desiree, is riding in Australia.