04/26/2006 11:00PM

New turf course suits Heavenly Ransom fine

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - On Wednesday morning, as trainer Ray Bell grazed Heavenly Ransom on the Hollywood Park backstretch, he took a moment to reflect on the filly's record of 4 wins in her 5 starts.

In a few of the races, Bell thought Heavenly Ransom was overmatched, only to watch her win. "Every time I look at the Form, I think, 'Whoa,' " he said.

After Wednesday's $100,000 Wilshire Handicap, he had the same reaction, but for a different reason. It was Heavenly Ransom who made her five rivals look overmatched.

Winning her first graded stakes, Heavenly Ransom rallied from last in a field of six fillies and mares to win the one-mile turf race by three-quarters of a length over Ticker Tape, who was stuck in traffic on the final turn. Flip Flop finished third, with 8-5 favorite Beautyandthebeast fourth after a wide trip.

Heavenly Ransom was bumped at the start by pacesetter Megec Blic and raced off the pace for the first six furlongs. With a wide rally, Heavenly Ransom reached contention in the stretch before taking the lead.

Ridden by Jon Court, Heavenly Ransom ($7.40) ran a mile on turf in a stakes-record time of 1:33.14.

Owned by Vicken and Susen Meguerditchian, Heavenly Ransom, 4, has now won 5 of 6 starts and earned $181,720. The Grade 3 Wilshire was her second stakes win. She won the Chandler Handicap in her second career start at Turf Paradise last November.

Bell said that Heavenly Ransom would be campaigned sparingly at this meeting, with the $300,000 Gamely Breeders' Cup Stakes on May 29 a possible next start.

"I'm really looking at the fall of the year," he said.

'Firm' is the consensus

Wednesday's program marked the debut of Hollywood Park's new turf course. The course was replaced last summer after it failed to take root and was not used during the fall meeting. The current course, consisting of a Bermuda grass known as GN-1, was planted in November.

The course was used twice on Wednesday and produced fast times. An optional claimer for 3-year-olds was timed in 1:33.79 for a mile.

"It's fast and firm," said Bell, who walked the course on Sunday. "They're probably bouncing over the top of it. I wouldn't say it's hard."

Several jockeys described the course as firm. "I wouldn't want to see if it any more firm," Court said.

Corey Nakatani, one of the circuit's top turf riders, praised the course.

"It's got a good bottom to it," Nakatani said. "It's safe to run on. They're skipping over the top."

Business numbers down some

Business figures for Wednesday's opening day are difficult to compare with 2005's opening-day figures since the track opened its spring-summer meeting last year on a Friday evening, drawing a crowd of more than 16,000.

On Wednesday, an ontrack crowd of 4,631 contributed to an all-sources handle of $6,851,794. The ontrack handle was $1,098,187. Those figures are lower than the corresponding opening day in 2004, which occurred on a Wednesday. That day, an ontrack crowd of 7,011 contributed to an all-sources handle of $7,240,697.

Part of the reason for a drop in the all-sources handle was the absence of simulcast handle from Nevada racebooks, according to track president Jack Liebau

Negotiations between the Churchill Downs Simulcast Network, which conducts simulcast negotiations on behalf of Hollywood Park, and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, were not resolved in time for Wednesday's program.

Liebau said the issue was resolved in time for Thursday's program at Hollywood Park.