04/19/2009 11:00PM

Season offers little peace of mind


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - For those who like a good inside Seinfeld joke - and who doesn't? - the name attached to the final race of the Santa Anita season last Sunday afternoon was "Serenity Now!"

Racing secretary Rick Hammerle gets the credit for summoning a suitable mantra to address the ongoing anxieties of those who yearn for a more stable California horse racing universe. Right now, from grooms to CEOs, everyone is walking on eggshells, fearful of the next boot to drop.

"Serenity now!" cried Frank Constanza, George's dad, at moments of high anxiety, and Kramer echoed a more subdued, "Serenity now."

The days are long gone of that seamless transition from the graceful, old world surroundings of Santa Anita to the energizing, moderne design of Hollywood Park, screaming of the 1950s, all clean lines and sharp hues. Aesthetics aside, the 2009 reality shifts not simply from one grand stage to another, but from a racetrack in the midst of a bankruptcy trauma to a racetrack with a parent company intent on closing it down and developing the land for other commercial ventures.

At this point it serves no purpose to belabor the fact that Hollywood Park, which opens Wednesday, could disappear in the near future. The goalposts have been moving lately, thanks to the uncertainties of the real estate market, which means the Bay Meadows Land Co., which owns the track, is unable to nail down exactly when the bulldozers will be unleashed.

Those who give the matter serious thought would appear to have a choice. Either Hollywood Park is now holding the rest of the Southern California circuit hostage, making it difficult for the other players involved to prepare for a world without a second major metropolitan L.A. track. Or Hollywood Park is serving the industry by remaining up and running, maintaining at least a semblance of a first-class race meet during its traditional dates until its ownership can, in due time, make a decision about redevelopment.

Unique among California's racetracks, the Hollywood Park spring-summer dates embrace a bounty of prime holidays and major events, each one ripe for picking through an aggressive marketing campaign. There is Mother's Day, Father's Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July, not to mention each of the three Saturdays on which a Triple Crown race is run. This year, Hollywood Park management should be judged by their ability to capitalize on those particular days. And while no one can ignore the challenges presented by the economic climate, Hollywood at the very least should be held to the standards established by their counterparts at Santa Anita and Del Mar. They're all in the same boat.

In addition to the envious collection of premium dates, there could be at least one other highly compelling reason to be present and accounted for at Hollywood Park during the meet. Circle May 23 and June 27, for on one of those days, if the stars align, Zenyatta could defend her title in either the Milady Handicap or the Vanity Handicap.

Zenyatta worked six furlongs in company at Hollywood Park on Sunday. If you want to see how it went, go to , which is the YouTube channel maintained by the champ's trainer, John Shirreffs. That's right, when he's not cutting carrots, or mixing spirulina shakes, or picking tiny flecks of straw from the tails of unstarted 2-year-olds, Shirreffs is a gadget hound. On Sunday he did himself one better by mounting a small video camera to the helmet worn by Mike Smith during Zenyatta's exercise.

"It was a pretty amazing work," said Jerry Moss, who owns Zenyatta with his wife, Ann. "And the video is fantastic. I think she's getting pretty close, but it's really up to John."

Zenyatta has not raced since winning the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic on Oct. 24.

"I hope she runs at least once at Hollywood," Moss said. "But we do want to do something a little different this year. We would like to take her around a little bit, though, and show her off to fans who haven't seen her before."

This would be called the sporting thing to do, which is encouraged, but not required.

"I know," Moss said. "And it would be easy if we do the same as last year. But then, it's like what have you done lately. I think there are some interesting races in other places over the summer. Then we can always come back to California."

Zenyatta has spent her career eating, sleeping, and training at Hollywood Park. Someday her stall will be bronzed. But Moss, in his role as both Thoroughbred owner and racing board commissioner, views the impact of a Hollywood closure in the largest possible sense.

"Losing Hollywood Park would be a tremendous loss," Moss said. "It's not that we're not going to survive, or not have racing. But you lose the element of the sport on the west side of town. You lose 238 acres that's so great for training and stabling. Everything would become more difficult, more expensive.

"On top of that, Hollywood Park is just a great racetrack," Moss added. "It's a shame it could not have been situated earlier on with people who had a real concern for its future, rather than a development company that's going to just rip it up. But it's a matter of economics, and they're the stake-holders. It's their money, so what are you going to do?"

Zenyatta, now.