11/04/2011 1:59PM

Hollywood Park purses will increase from last fall

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Overnight purses at the upcoming Hollywood Park fall meeting are set to rise compared to the corresponding meeting last year, but will be lower than prize money at the track’s spring-summer meeting earlier this year.

The fall meeting begins Thursday and continues through Dec. 18.

Overnight purses have been hiked across the board, with claiming horses the beneficiary of the most substantial increases. For example, a $32,000 claiming race for fillies and mares over a mile on turf will be worth $34,000, $8,000 more than last fall.

The same race was worth $35,000 during the summer-spring meeting and was later increased by approximately 7 percent when a retroactive purse payment was made during the summer. The retroactive payment occurred when handle figures were higher than expected at that meeting.

For the upcoming meeting, a first-condition allowance race for sprinters will be worth $48,000, an increase of $8,000 from last year, but down $4,000 from the summer. A maiden race for California-bred sprinters will be worth $45,000. The purse is $5,000 less than the spring-summer meeting, and $5,000 higher than the 2010 fall meeting.

Racing secretary Martin Panza said an emphasis was placed on purses for claiming races, an approach taken during the summer.

“We tried to address the same claiming races for the fall,” Panza said. “We all had significant increases in our claiming purses to keep those horses in business and keep them around.”

Regarding the drop in purses from the spring-summer meeting to the fall meeting, Panza said racing has difficulty attracting as much business in the later months of the year.

“The fall is different than the spring because you don’t generate as much purse money going up against football,” he said.

Some of the additional purse money generated during the summer that was not distributed through a retroactive purse payment has gone toward overnight purses this fall.

“That probably added $10,000 to $12,000 a day to the fall,” Panza said.

The higher overnight purses leave Hollywood Park purses greater than or equal to purses offered at the Santa Anita autumn meeting, which ends Sunday. For example, an optional claimer over 1 1/8 miles on turf, with conditions for $62,500 claimers, was worth $51,000 at the Santa Anita autumn meeting and has a purse of $52,000 at Hollywood Park this fall. A first-condition allowance race for sprinters was worth $48,000 at both tracks.

The Hollywood Park meeting will operate on a four-day per week basis through Dec. 4 and include two five-day weeks starting on Dec. 7. Following the final day of the meeting on Dec. 18, there is no live racing in Southern California until Dec. 26, the opening day of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting.

Panza estimated that there are approximately 2,850 horses on the backstretches of Hollywood Park and Santa Anita.

“At four days a week, we’ve got enough to make this work,” he said. “We’ve got two five-day weeks, but there are eight days off between the end of our meet and the start of Santa Anita. You hope people will want to run.”

Santa Anita purse underpayment

Santa Anita will underpay purses at the current autumn meeting that ends Sunday, but it was unclear Thursday whether the figure will be high enough to justify a retroactive purse payment, track president George Haines.

Haines said business this weekend, including simulcasts of the Breeders’ Cup races from Churchill Downs on Friday and Saturday, will determine whether purses are paid retroactively or whether a sum of money is carried over to next year.

“A lot depends on this weekend,” he said. “It’s too early to say.”

If Santa Anita makes a retroactive payment, it will be the third consecutive major race meeting on the circuit to do so. Aside from the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, Del Mar will pay a retroactive purse payment of approximately $1.5 million from the summer meeting.

Jockey race down to the wire

The jockey’s race for the Santa Anita autumn meeting will come down to the final day.

Through Thursday, jockeys Rafael Bejarano and Joel Rosario each had 31 wins. They rode at Churchill Downs on Friday and Saturday and each have six mounts on Sunday’s 10-race program.

It is possible that the riding title could come down to the ninth race, the $150,000 Las Palmas Stakes. Rosario rides Malibu Pier, while Bejarano rides Sarah’s Secret. Neither jockey is booked to ride the 10th race.

Vercruysse, TOC part ways

Aaron Vercruysse and Thoroughbred Owners of California are parting company. Vercruysse, retained one year ago as TOC “racing business consultant,” notified the organization in late October that he will fulfill his contract through Nov. 30 and not pursue further TOC employment afterward. Vercruysse will continue as a racing broadcaster for HRTV.

Vercruysse, 38, did not elaborate on his departure from TOC.

“I will be exploring my options,” he said.

Vercruysse previously served as vice president of racing and wagering at Santa Anita, where he was employed for nine years. Vercruysse is a graduate of the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program.

– additional reporting by Brad Free