11/07/2005 12:00AM

No-turf season to focus on juveniles

Hollywood Park begins its fall meet on Wednesday without a turf course.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Facing the challenge of operating a six-week race meet without a turf course, Hollywood Park tiptoes into its fall meet on Wednesday. The track's president, Jack Liebau, recognizes that the 27-day meet - an autumn dirt festival - will be a tough sell.

"Let's just say the marketing plan that we had is obsolete," Liebau said after Hollywood ripped out its newly installed turf course last week and announced that the fall meet will be dirt-only. Grass racing accounts for nearly one-quarter of the Hollywood racing program, but when the new turf course failed to take root, the track pulled the plug.

The ramifications will be felt throughout the fall. Hollywood abandoned this year's three-day, $1.7 million Autumn Turf Festival, which would have been the showcase of the meet; four Grade 1's, and five other stakes, have been suspended for a year; and the racing office will try to fill programs without turf horses.

Hollywood has begun the process of installing new turf, and officials believe a suitable course will be ready for spring. For now, the track must survive a meet considerably different than planned. Hollywood trimmed the meet from 31 to 27 days by eliminating the final four Wednesdays (with the option of re-instituting Wednesday, Dec. 14), and added two stakes for a division that will be the meet's primary focus - 2-year-olds.

Trainer Bob Baffert is expected to have starters in all six juvenile stakes, including new races at 1 1/16 miles - the $100,000 Real Quiet for 2-year-olds on Nov. 26, and the $100,000 Sharp Cat for 2-year-old fillies on Nov. 27. Baffert, whose 58 starters during the 2004 autumn meet included just five on turf, was not broken up about losing the turf course for one meet.

"It's a wake-up call," he said. "It's a chance to pump up the 2-year-old program. At Hollywood, they have turf racing because it's an easy way to fill races."

Baffert centers his operation on young horses, and believes California tracks would be more attractive for out-of-state stables with higher purse money, and a greater number of races, for young horses.

Appropriately, Baffert's initial starter Wednesday is 2-year-old Only in Louisiana, who stretches out in race 3 for maidens at 1 1/16 miles.

"I've always been high on this horse - the farther, the better," he said. Racing seven furlongs in his debut, Only in Louisiana finished second, and will be among the favorites Wednesday against two that foretell the turf-to-dirt theme this fall. Altozoe and Ecru Egret finished third and second, respectively, in turf routes at Santa Anita, and figure prominently Wednesday if they transfer their grass form to the main track.

Baffert also remains high on 2-year-old Bob and John, a distant second behind A.P. Warrior in a first-condition allowance on Nov. 4 in his first start since illness forced him to scratch from the Grade 2 Norfolk.

"When they get sick, it knocks them out for three weeks," Baffert said. "He got tired, and he's still a long way off. The horse that beat him is a good horse." Baffert said Bob and John will return in the Real Quiet, which would set him up for a rematch with A.P. Warrior on Dec. 17 in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity.

Baffert said that Da Stoops will cut back to seven furlongs Nov. 19 in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue and that Cotton Bay will run Nov. 20 in the $100,000 Moccasin Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Cotton Bay earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 97 in her Oct. 19 debut win, and currently is the fastest filly trained by Baffert. Diamond Omi, winner of the Oak Leaf and last in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, could run in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet on Dec. 18.

Meet highlights

Nov. 19Prevue Stakes (Gr. 3)$100,000
Dec. 3Underwood Stakes (Gr. 3)100,000
Dec. 10Native Diver Handicap (Gr. 3)100,000
Dec. 11Bayakoa Handicap (Gr. 2)150,000
Dec. 17Hollywood Futurity (Gr. 1)250,000
Dec. 18Hollywood Starlet (Gr. 1)250,000