04/27/2009 12:00AM

Horse shortage becoming acute


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - An acute shortage of race-ready Thoroughbreds in Southern California delayed the draw of Thursday's entries at Hollywood Park over the weekend, and has increased concern among racing officials that the issue will be a frequent problem through the spring-summer meeting.

Entries for Thursday were supposed to be taken on Sunday, but the draw was postponed until Tuesday, according to track president Eual Wyatt Jr. He said six races were able to be filled, "with a couple of short fields in the mix."

The track was aiming to fill eight-races. Sunday, the track drew eight races for Wednesday, which attracted 60 horses including also-eligibles.

The postponed draw for Thursday is likely to lead to conversations between track officials and the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the official representative for horsemen in the state, about horse inventory and ways to fill programs. The possibilities include reducing the number of races per day, or even reducing the number of racing days per week.

Privately, some horsemen have expressed concern that Hollywood Park could be forced to cancel racing days because of insufficient entries.

Sunday, officials declined to commit to any change in the racing schedule, or the number of races conducted per day.

"Obviously, there is a horse shortage, and we'll try to come to some conclusion on what the practical thing to do is," Wyatt said. "I have no preconceived plan on what that might be."

TOC president Drew Couto said the issue of fewer races per day could be discussed soon.

"If the struggles go on, there will be no way not to have that conversation," Couto said. "Inventory is very tough and will stay that way for awhile."

The issue is not limited to Hollywood Park. At the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting that concluded on April 19, fields averaged 8.23 starters per race, down from 8.65 starters at the 2007-08 meeting.

The first week of the Hollywood Park meeting that ended on Sunday saw declines in field size. The track averaged 7.27 starters per race, compared to 8.25 starters for the entire 2008 spring-summer meeting.

Del Mar gets schedule approval

The horse shortage issue was one of the principal reasons that Del Mar received permission from the California Horse Racing Board last Friday to eliminate racing on most Mondays during its upcoming summer meeting, which runs from July 22 to Sept. 9.

The track will run 37 days instead of the 43 days conducted in past years. Racing will be held on Monday, Sept. 7, Labor Day.

Del Mar vice-president Craig Fravel said that an additional race will be offered on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays to make up for the lost days, and that if entries are strong an additional race could be carded on Thursdays.

Maiden to stakes winner in a month

It took less than four weeks for Compari to go from being a maiden to the winner of the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes on Saturday. Owner-breeder Don Valpredo did not see it coming.

"No chance," he said, when asked if he could predicted such a development in late winter.

Compari led throughout the Snow Chief Stakes, for statebred 3-year-olds, to win his stakes debut. Ridden by Garrett Gomez, Compari won by 1 3/4 lengths over Triumphant Flight in the race over 1 1/8 miles.

"You always have hopes for that," Valpredo said in the winner's circle. "We've been in this business so long. We've seen the ups and downs. This is an anticipation that keeps you going and wanting to do it again."

Valpredo bred Compari with co-owners John Harris and John Nicoletti. The gelding, by Redattore, is trained by Marty Jones.

Compari debuted with a third-place finish in a maiden race for statebreds over six furlongs at Santa Anita on Feb. 26. He returned to win a maiden race over a mile on turf by a convincing 3 3/4 lengths on March 29, which led to the start in the Snow Chief. Before that race, Compari had to recover from a bruised foot, Jones said.

"We had to work on it for a few days," he said.

Jones said that Compari was fitted with a three-quarter shoe that left the bruised area exposed so it could heal. "It really helped the horse," he said.

Sunday, Jones said that Compari would be considered for the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap, a Grade 3 for 3-year-olds over 1 1/16 miles on June 20. The race is a prep for the $300,000 Swaps Stakes, a Grade 2 over 1 1/8 miles on July 18 and the championship race of the meeting for 3-year-olds.

Plans for Gold Rush winners

Saturday's California Gold Rush program featured six major stakes for statebreds. Some of the other winners will run toward the end of this meeting.

Pretty Unusual, the winner of the $200,000 Melair Stakes for 3-year-olds in her stakes debut, will return in the $150,000 Hollywood Oaks on June 7, trainer Barry Abrams said.

Liberian Freighter, who won his second consecutive stakes in the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes over 7 1/2 furlongs, is likely to start in a graded stakes, perhaps the $300,000 Triple Bend Handicap on July 5.

Bootleg Annie, who won her first six-figure stakes in the Fran's Valentine for fillies and mares on turf, will be given a rest, trainer Kathy Walsh said. Unusual Smoke, who the $150,000 Khaled Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on turf, will get a 30-day break, trainer A.C. Avila said.

Waveline, who won her first stakes in the B. Thoughtful Stakes over seven furlongs, is a candidate for the $150,000 A Gleam Handicap over seven furlongs on July 18.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano had an outstanding day on Saturday, winning five races, including four of the major stakes aboard Waveline, Bootleg Annie, Pretty Unusual and Liberian Freighter.

* Saturday's pick six returned $277,604 to one ticketholder on a $720 ticket bought at Hollywood Park, according to track officials. Hollywood Park guaranteed that the pick six pool would reach $500,000 on Saturday, but the pool reached only $486,681, and the track had to make up the difference.