04/23/2006 11:00PM

New turf gets good reviews


The most important turf race run at Hollywood Park this season may not be one of the $750,000 races in early July - the American Oaks or the CashCall Mile. It may be Wednesday's fifth race, an optional claimer over a mile on turf.

That race will be the first time the course has been tested since it was installed last fall after a disastrous run of events that led to no turf racing at the autumn meeting. In the weeks before that meeting, the course was deemed unfit for use and was replaced.

The new turf course was given its most extensive test on Sunday, with 17 horses working. Trainers and exercise riders gave the course generally favorable reviews, with a slight concern voiced that the course was too firm. During workouts, the horses seemed to be getting over the top of the short-cut surface with few divots thrown.

Heavenly Ransom, entered for Wednesday's Wilshire Handicap, was one of the first horses on the course. Trainer Ray Bell felt the filly handled the course well in an exercise that was slightly slower than a breeze. She was not given a time. "It will be fast and firm. It looks like they have right recipe," Bell said. "It's a matter of how it will hold up over time. Right now, I'd give it a thumbs up."

Humberto Gomez, an exercise rider for trainer Julio Canani, compared the course favorably to the one at Santa Anita. "I could say they're equal. I think it's better than last year" at Hollywood Park, he said. "It's more even."

In the first week of the meeting, the course will be used sparingly, according to racing secretary Martin Panza. He said two races are planned on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and three on Friday night and Saturday. Panza said that if the course is too firm, it can be aerated to soften the ground. "The roots are down five and a half or six inches and a lot are down to eight inches," he said. The course was resodded last November, a few weeks after the surface was abandoned when the course failed to take root after being replanted late summer. A long-scheduled renovation of the course occurred after the 2005 spring-summer meeting. The new course is a Bermuda grass known as GN-1, and was developed by professional golfer Greg Norman. A similar Bermuda grass is used on the turf course at Del Mar. Growing conditions have been favorable in recent months, with warm weather. The cancellation of turf racing at the 2005 fall meeting was the second consecutive year the track failed to complete turf racing during a meeting. In the fall of 2004, turf racing was cancelled for the final week because of unsafe conditions, largely caused by drainage problems. Panza said the new course has more sand than clay in the top layer, which should aid draining in the event of rain.

"The first eight or nine inches are sand," Panza said. "If it's firm, we can aerate it and we can control it."