07/14/2005 11:00PM

Hollywood's greatest hits


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There is absolutely no reason to doubt the word of the people running the Bay Meadows Land Co. when they say that Hollywood Park, their newest jewel, could be good for at least another three years of operation, depending upon California's legislative and economic trends.

Just the same, any time an enterprise is owned by a land company - or, for that matter, a real estate investment trust, a development firm or a business with the word "properties" in its name - interested parties must be prepared at all times for dramatic change.

In that cautious spirit, let's pretend for a moment that Sunday's closing-day program at Hollywood Park could be its real closing program, even though there is still an autumn Hollywood meeting on the 2005 calendar, scheduled to begin on Nov. 9 and featuring several of the West's top events. Nominations already have been taken for both the Hollywood Futurity and the Hollywood Starlet, for either $250 or $500 a pop, and you know how much any self-respecting entertainment venue hates to cough up refunds.

So chances are good that the most fascinating images from the 2005 season probably will be absorbed into the greater lore of Hollywood Park instead of recalled as a last hurrah. Here a few that rise above the rest:

* While trainer John Shirreffs was away on May 7, winning a little race at Churchill Downs, Hollywood Story kept the home fires burning by winning the Hawthorne Handicap. To pull it off, she had to recover from a heart-stopping stumble on the first turn that noticeably aged Victor Espinoza and nearly brought her down.

Two weeks later, Afleet Alex paid homage to Hollywood Story's impressive agility on national television with a pretty good recovery of his own in the Preakness Stakes.

* As unsung heroes go, outriders rarely get a call. Let's hear it then, for Blake Heap, a pretty fair trainer in his own right and a outstanding hand on horseback, which he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in the tense moments after the start of the Triple Bend Handicap.

Roi Charmant, breaking from the rail, stumbled and dumped his rider, the adventurous Espinoza, right at the start. Undaunted, the nimble Roi Charmant quickly found his feet and seemed determined to dive right into the thick of the dozen others in the Triple Bend field. This would have caused all manner of chaos.

That's when Heap swooped in like a Queensland Blue Heeler on a heifer, snagging Roi Charmant before he could create any more havoc. Yo, Blake. Nice catch.

* The celebration for Hall of Famers Laffit Pincay, Chris McCarron, Eddie Delahoussaye, and Julie Krone would have been a highlight of the meet even without the participation of a family member (she was the one in the sleeveless maternity dress).

Reluctantly retired from the field of battle, the four were forced to acknowledge their own impressive numbers during a fan-friendly public ceremony that included a dazzling tribute video (by Kip Hannan of Hollywood's TV department) tracing the arc of their careers, from bug riders, to superstars, to their place in the Saratoga shrine. Those numbers, breathtaking in their scope, included 143,349 mounts and 26,759 winners, representing purses of more than $777 million.

"What happened to all that money?" wondered McCarron.

"Never mind the money," countered Delahoussaye. "What happened to our hair?"

* There is no truth to the rumor that Pete Pedersen is on George Bush's short list of candidates to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. But he could do worse.

After half a century as a racing official, closing day marks Pedersen's final hour as a steward. There will be some kind of ceremony, as there was briefly on Gold Cup Day when Pedersen presented the trophy to the winning connections.

Collectors of unintentionally ironic moments got a bonus that day when Pedersen stood alongside Lava Man's winning jockey, Pat Valenzuela, both wearing bright smiles. It was in January of 2004 that Pedersen and two fellow stewards attached their signatures to a recommendation that Valenzuela be suspended for the balance of the year. A subsequent stewards' panel recommended he never be granted another California license.

Various legal maneuvers, a generous racing board, and Valenzuela's single-minded persistence have kept the jockey in the game. But just to show old habits die hard, less than 24 hours after Lava Man's victory Valenzuela was handed a three-day suspension by Pedersen and his fellow stewards for careless riding earlier on the Gold Cup card.

In the end, the 2005 Hollywood meet will be remembered as the summer of Cesario. The Japanese filly stole both the American Oaks and American hearts with her towering performance of July 3.

On an afternoon that provided one vivid moment after another, it would be hard to top the scene late in the day, when Yuichi Fukunaga stood outside the jockeys' room, giving the assembled Japanese media one last account of his flawless ride aboard Cesario. Just then, Hollywood's hornblower, Jay Cohen, approached the gathering and announced that he had a special piece he wished to play.

With that, Cohen raised the long horn to his lips and, reading from a piece of sheet music, played a song called Kimigayo. Stunned but obviously pleased, Fukunaga and his countrymen stood silently as the Japanese national anthem echoed through the hallways of Hollywood Park, then delivered a round of applause as the final notes faded away.