11/05/2007 12:00AM

Rosy picture for the present

Benoit & Associates
Hollwood Park boasts ample fall stakes, including the Nov. 23-25 Turf Festival with six stakes, which includes three Grade 1s.
INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hollywood Park is open for racing Wednesday. The simple fact is taken for granted every fall when the Southern California circuit makes its final stop on the calendar, and the $1.75 million Turf Festival offers much of the best grass racing of the year.

But the 2007 fall meet begins with ambiguity. The fate of the track is uncertain beyond its allotted 2008 fall dates because the track's owner - Bay Meadows Land Co. - has not committed to racing in 2009.

Faced with a vague future, Hollywood racing secretary Martin Panza can only focus on the present. That is the 32-day fall meet that ends Dec. 22. When there is an elephant in the room - possible closure of Hollywood - sometimes the only option is ignore it.

"We sense it; that looms over our heads every day," Panza said. "It would cause serious problems because there is no place to put all these horses. But we all have our job to do, and we do it."

For now, an influx of three high-quality stables and a sizable local inventory will allow Panza to coordinate a fall racing program replete with new shooters. Todd Pletcher will have 46 stalls at Hollywood, Darley Stables will have 20, and East Coast-based trainer Christophe Clemente will have 12.

"That's 80 nice horses - allowance and stakes horses - and it certainly helps our program," Panza said.

Those horses add to approximately 3,500 that are stabled at Hollywood and Santa Anita combined. It should be enough.

"We have a lot more horses than we usually have, and from that standpoint, it has to be viewed optimistically," Panza said.

He noted that 8.9 horses per race was the average for the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet "We would hope our meet would continue with that," Panza said. "We'll try to run a little better-quality races."

There is ample opportunity in the stakes, including the Nov. 23-25 Turf Festival with six stakes, including three Grade 1s. They are the $400,000 Citation Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on Nov. 23, and two $500,000 stakes on Nov. 25 - the one-mile Matriarch for fillies and mares, and 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Derby for 3-year-olds.

The fall meet has more to offer than just grass.

"For a while it was only the Turf Festival, now it is also the time to develop 2-year-olds," Panza said.

Impressive recent maiden Colonel John, an Eoin Harty-trained Tiznow colt, enters fall as one of the top prospects in the 2-year-old colt division.

Colonel John runs Nov. 18 in the $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes at 1 1/16 miles; the filly counterpart is the $100,000 Sharp Cat Stakes on Nov. 17. Panza does not expect the entry box to fill for either.

"We may only run a six- or seven-horse field in the Sharp Cat or Real Quiet, but that's okay," he said. "It gives guys a chance to develop horses."

Those stakes lead to Grade 1s. The $200,000 Hollywood Starlet for fillies is Dec. 15; early contenders include Grade 1 Alcibiades winner Country Star and Grace Anatomy. Colts runs Dec. 22 in the CashCall Futurity, a $750,000 race formerly called the Hollywood Futurity. Norfolk Stakes winner Dixie Chatter could return in the Futurity.

As for the short term, an interesting opening-day card is highlighted by the $65,000 War Chant Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile on turf. Two out-of-state shippers add an element of freshness, though the Pletcher-trained Sandwaki and Harty's Darley-owned Sahara Heat are relegated to longshot status.

Local runners Karazi and Carrileo are the likely favorites. Both began their careers on other continents. They meet Wednesday for the first time in race 7. Carrileo won first out in Argentina, and was fifth in his U.S. debut for trainer Mike Puype on Aug. 12 at Del Mar.

In his second U.S. start, Puype shortened him to a Santa Anita turf sprint. He exploded with a last-to-first rally under Victor Espinoza.

"He's going to be one of the horses to beat off that, and he's training extremely well," Puype said.

Three horses that finished behind Carrilero returned to win - third-place Sixcess, fifth-place Mr Napper Tandy, and eighth-place Heated Rebel.

The horse to beat in the War Chant, however, is the John Sadler-trained Karazi, an import from France who was scheduled to run opening day at Del Mar in the non-graded Oceanside Stakes. He was sick and scratched; both starts after were in graded stakes.

Karazi got rank and finished fifth each time, but Wednesday drops into a non-graded race, cuts back to a mile, and switches to Garrett Gomez. If he conserves his energy, he can win from behind. Sadler also starts Warning Zone, winner of the Grade 3 Generous Stakes last fall as a 2-year-old.

Other starters in the War Chant are Barbecue Eddie, Bad Boy, Booming Comps, and El Grego.

The most likely winner on the card is the 2-year-old maiden Just N Excess in race 6.

First post is 12:30 p.m. Pacific.