11/01/2004 12:00AM

Meet to see tighter security

Doug O'Neill, tops among trainers in victories at last year's Hollywood fall meet, has 75 horses in his barn in an effort to repeat.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hollywood Park, which opens its seven-week fall meeting on Wednesday, is significantly enhancing backstretch security. Hollywood is continuing a plan launched at the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita this fall in response to a yearlong effort by racing officials to curtail the perception of widespread cheating on the backstretch.

During the Oak Tree meeting that ended on Sunday, random prerace tests were conducted to detect high levels of sodium bicarbonate, administered by what is known in racing circles as milkshakes. The act of giving a horse sodium bicarbonate, typically through a tube directly into the stomach, is considered a possible performance-enhancer.

In addition, Oak Tree hired security staff that was stationed outside the stalls of some runners to monitor activities involving those horses. The staff was equipped with small video cameras to record the activity of stable workers who handled the horses in the hours before a race.

Initially, security staff was sent to monitor horses entered for graded stakes, but that plan was later changed to monitoring a race a day, with the stewards randomly selecting the race.

Hollywood Park is taking the same security measures Santa Anita did, and officials there are hoping they will placate concerns among racegoers that Southern California racing is plagued by cheating.

"I think it's a measured response to a perception, if not a reality," said Hollywood Park's president, Rick Baedeker. "Both of those things can be equally as damaging. I think it was a bold move by Oak Tree to implement this - and go above and beyond."

Baedeker declined to reveal the costs of hiring additional security staff. Previously, the track offered race-day security and surveillance for horses entered in Grade 1 races.

"In a change for us, there will be surveillance for every graded stakes," he said.

The enhancement of backstretch security has been widely discussed by an ad hoc committee of owners, trainers, and track executives in the last year. Ideas have included a dedicated isolation barn for all horses on race days, surveillance stalls equipped with cameras within each individual barn, enhanced backstretch security by California Horse Racing Board personnel, and freezing blood samples for future testing.

Proposals are expected to be submitted to the racing board in coming months.

During Oak Tree, carbon dioxide readings for six horses tested for milkshakes came back at just below the threshold levels at which Oak Tree officials said they would revoke stall space, according to Oak Tree's executive vice-president, Sherwood Chillingworth. The trainers involved were not publicly identified, Chillingworth said. Administering a milkshake is illegal according to a broad racing board regulation. The board is in the process of creating a rule that specifically bans milkshakes.

"Our avowed purpose was not to catch anybody," said Chillingworth. "We were trying to be a deterrence. In the final week of the meeting, we had zero positives. We think the program is working."

Chillingworth said the trainers involved were notified of the test results and had every subsequent starter monitored for a six-hour period before post time by security staff.

Lower purses to begin with

Hollywood Park had disappointing business during the fall meeting last year. Midway through the season, there was an 8 percent cut in overnight purses because of lower-than-expected handle figures.

This year, the track has lowered purses for most categories, largely because of a purse debt carried forward from the 2003 meeting.

A six-furlong maiden race for $28,000 to $32,000 claimers - of which there will be many - is worth $16,000, a drop of $1,000. A route for $18,000 to $20,000 claimers has been cut from $23,000 to $21,000, and a first-condition allowance over a mile on turf for 3-year-olds and up has been cut from $43,000 to $39,000. Those races are being offered in the first two weeks of the meeting.

The track took a similar approach at the spring-summer meeting and did not have to cut purses midway through the season.

"We're kind of approaching it like we did the spring-summer meet," Baedeker said. "We're starting off conservatively. We'd like to pay more and but we like to avoid a cut.

"We are starting off with an overpayment."

O'Neill well armed for defense

Doug O'Neill won the training title at the 2003 Hollywood Park fall meeting. Sunday, he said he will be making a full effort to defend that title with his 75-horse stable.

"I think we've got the numbers," he said.

O'Neill finished second at the Oak Tree meeting with 11 victories, two fewer than the leader, Mike Mitchell. O'Neill finished well, winning Sunday's early double. He has three runners on Wednesday: Why Knott Me Too in the second race, Right Proof in the featured seventh race, and Devote in a turf sprint in the eighth race.

Saturday, O'Neill starts Perfect Moon in the $60,000 Bien Bien Stakes for 3-year-olds over a mile on turf. The race is restricted to nonwinners of a first-place purse of $60,000 at a mile or over.

Perfect Moon won the restricted El Cajon Stakes on dirt at Del Mar in September, ending a six-race losing streak, but was fifth in the Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park on Oct. 2. By Malibu Moon, Perfect Moon will be making his first start on turf in the Bien Bien Stakes.

"The Malibu Moons have run well on grass back East," O'Neill said. "We're trying to find a spot for just 3-year-olds, and we were looking for a place where we didn't have to face the monsters."

The Bien Bien will not include Turkish Cavalry, the impressive winner of an allowance race on turf at Oak Tree. He spiked a temperature last week, but has recovered, trainer Wally Dollase said.

O'Neill has stakes prospects to start throughout the Hollywood Park fall meeting. On Nov. 13, O'Neill may start Areyoutalkintome in the $85,000 On Trust Handicap over 7 1/2 furlongs. Areyoutalkintome won the California Cup Sprint last month.

Sharp Lisa, who finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Lone Star Park on Saturday, will be pointed for the $100,000 Miesque Stakes over a mile on turf on Nov. 26.

"She's bred to run on grass," O'Neill said of Sharp Lisa, who is by Dixieland Band out of a Dynaformer mare.

Still no alternate selection option

The pick four, the pick six, and the pick threes involving Sunday's seventh race changed dramatically when the 7-5 favorite, Excessiveobsession, was scratched after becoming upset at the gate.

Tickets that included Excessiveobsession were transferred to the post-time favorite, Cookin Carol, who struggled home last after leading early. The race was won by Yodeladytoo ($12.40).

Since October 2002, California bettors have not been allowed to designate an alternate selection for multirace bets such as the pick four and pick six in the event the primary selection is a late scratch. Being able to designate an alternate selection allowed bettors to avoid being stuck with an unwanted favorite in the case of a scratch.

The provision was withdrawn from the betting menu after the scandal that hit the 2002 Breeders' Cup pick six when pick six tickets were doctored after four of the races were run.

Tote officials have said in recent months that the technology has not been updated in the last two years to allow alternate selections to be reimplemented.

Palma's winner a special one

Yodeladytoo's victory was poignant for trainer Hector Palma. It was his first winner since he returned to training from an absence of 3 1/2 years earlier this year.

Palma, 67, left training in early 2000 after his partner of 30 years, Becky, was stricken with a brain aneurysm. She was in the winner's circle on Sunday.

Palma trains seven horses at Santa Anita.