05/01/2007 11:00PM

River Savage iffy for Hawthorne


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There appears to be a shortage of stakes-caliber fillies and mares in California.

Sunday's $100,000 Hawthorne Handicap over 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park might have only five starters. As of Wednesday, the probable starters were Ballado's Thunder, Cantabria, Flow Chart, and Seafree.

River Savage was being pointed to the race but may not run, trainer A.C. Avila said. The winner of the Paseana Handicap over a mile at Santa Anita in January, River Savage has been defeated in three subsequent starts, all Grade 1 races. She was sixth in the Santa Maria Handicap in February, third in the Santa Margarita Handicap in March, and sixth in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park in April.

Avila was not enthusiastic about her recent workouts on Hollywood Park's synthetic track. Owned by L-Bo Racing and Monte Pyle, River Savage, 5, underwent precautionary blood tests earlier this week, which showed no irregularities, Avila said.

"The blood came back beautiful," he said. "She galloped like she wanted to go, but in the works she's been flat. It looked like she was a little strained from the trip to Oaklawn."

River Savage would be the pacesetter in the Hawthorne. She led throughout the Paseana Handicap in January and led to the final turn in the Apple Blossom before fading to finish 11 3/4 lengths behind Ermine.

Cushion Track gets workover

Hollywood Park officials adjusted the maintenance routine of the track's synthetic main track on Wednesday after some trainers expressed concern that the course had become deep and jockeys said the surface was producing more kickback during races.

A three-stage maintenance program began shortly after training ended on Wednesday. The track was bladed, rolled, and then harrowed in an effort to make the course tighter, according to track superintendent Dennis Moore. A tighter track allows horses to run over the top of it, and reduces kickback.

Moore said the routine is typically done after training on Fridays, a day that Hollywood Park races at night.

"I've had a couple of complaints about it," Moore said of the track. "It's still a good, safe track. We're doing something we've done once a week anyway.

"We're working on it and we're learning about it." The track, Moore said, "is very weather-sensitive."

Moore said the maintenance routine would not compact the track, but would leave it more condensed. "It doesn't compact like dirt, it's not a hard compact," he said.

Tuesday, jockey Richard Migliore said he had horses that "slipped and stumbled" on the surface. Jockey David Flores described it as "loose" and said the track is like that "off and on."

During workouts on Wednesday morning, Migliore said that he worked a horse "that was nearly exhausted. I nearly pulled him up."

Moore acknowledged that some kickback existed. "I had one trainer mention that to me, but it's nothing like I've seen at other tracks," he said.

Trainers generally said the track was in good shape, but left them confused about race strategy.

"You don't know how it's playing," said trainer Richard Matlow. "One day it's speed is holding and the other they're coming from off of it. You don't know what to tell your riders."

Trainer Ron Ellis said his exercise riders told him the track was "a little dead."

"I only care how they come out of" the exercise, he added.

This is the first summer meet that Hollywood Park has raced on the Cushion Track synthetic track. The surface was installed last summer and used for the first time during the fall meeting.

Wednesday's maintenance routine was completed at 12:30 p.m.

Molengao heads Mervyn LeRoy field

The $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap on Saturday has drawn a field of eight, led by Molengao, the runner-up in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in March.

Molengao will be ridden by Victor Espinoza and will carry 118 pounds. Espinoza was the expected to ride Cobalt Blue in Saturday's Kentucky Derby. Tuesday, Cobalt Blue was withdrawn from consideration for the Kentucky Derby.

Despite his win in the San Antonio Handicap in February and second in the Big Cap, Molengao is not the topweight for the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy, which is run over 1 1/16 miles.

The 120-pound topweight is Buzzards Bay, the winner of the 2005 Santa Anita Derby and 2006 Oaklawn Handicap. Buzzards Bay, 5, is making his first start since finishing fourth in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs last June.

Others in the LeRoy are Billy Allen, Brave Maestro, Cimyla, Mambo Train, Porto Santo, and Wanna Runner.