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Shirreffs provides moving moments
INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The spring-summer meet at Hollywood Park is barely off the ground, and the notebook is full already, with stuff like this:
* When he is not training graded stakes winners, John Shirreffs has become quite the Internet-video expert, including a captivating piece recorded from the helmet-cam of jockey Mike Smith during an April 19 workout by Zenyatta at Hollywood Park. The video is worth watching, and provides an inside look at the champion filly Shirreffs is eager to share with the world.
"How do you get people to feel some of the stuff we feel watching these horses on a daily basis?" Shirreffs explained. "How do you bring them closer to us? It's fun to share the different things that happen." Go to Youtube.com, search for Zenyatta, then sit back and enjoy a seven-minute ride.
* Sign-of-the-times hunch bet: Hollywood permanently closed its press box kitchen and transferred popular food server Grace Edman to the clubhouse. And wouldn't you know it? Grace Upon Grace won the first race of the spring-summer meet Wednesday. Upstairs in the press box, the track provided packaged boxed lunches to the few scattered media on hand for the opener.
* How good is the Hollywood rail at 4 1/2 furlongs? It remains deadly. The $11.60 win by Grace Upon Grace made the inside post 27 for 109 at the distance since the 2002 meet. That's a 24 percent win rate, no handicapping required. Race 1 on Thursday also was won by a 2-year-old breaking from the rail, as Alpine Empire dominated from post 1.
* Low numbers start to finish opening day at Hollywood - 4,043 fans on track, and a $1 Super High Five in the last race that paid $34.10. As a historical point of reference, opening day of the 1989 spring-summer meet had an ontrack crowd of 16,675
* The first leg of the $500,000 guaranteed pick six pool on Saturday at Hollywood would have been a lot easier if Excessive Blend entered race 5 for Cal-bred allowance fillies. Trained by Carla Gaines, she won her debut like a freak (by 4 1/2 lengths despite being annihilated at the break). She came out of the race with a tibia injury, however, and is temporarily sidelined. It makes Ciccina the horse to beat in race 5.
* Trainer Eric Kruljac claims that Triumphant Flight is a spitting image of his sire, Chullo, a champion stayer in Argentina. It is something to consider when Triumphant Flight tries to stretch his speed 1 1/8 miles Saturday in the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes.
* Even though Bruce Headley rarely wins with first-time starters, both fast-working rookies he entered Saturday at Hollywood (sired by One Man Army) are well meant. Headley starts Woman Warrior in race 2.
"I have her ready to run, and she can run," Headley said. In race 10, he starts M One Rifle. "I worked him with a fit filly [Joint Agreement], and he handled her," the trainer said.
* You don't see many Portland Meadows shippers in Southern California, but the long reach of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer extends up and down the West Coast of the United States. Hollendorfer is the sixth-leading trainer at Portland Meadows, firing at 40 percent (25 for 62). Crafty Power won the $32,000 Portland Meadows Mile one month ago for Hollendorfer, and Saturday he has a longshot chance as the potential lone speed the $150,000 Khaled Stakes (race 8).
* Few trainers publicly criticize synthetic surfaces, but a revealing nugget was published April 8 in the California Thoroughbred Trainers newsletter. A comment by Ed Halpern, CTT executive director, on synthetic tracks started with these two sentences: "Synthetic surfaces continue to create new maintenance problems and new and different kinds of injury problems. No one doubts that they are not as was promised when installed." The question now is, what can anyone do about it?
* Heartless Vixen, a 2-for-2 filly and future star for Ron Ellis, is on injured reserve. Her ailment is called a "bone island." Loosely translated, it is blood clotting in the bone. Heartless Vixen is out until fall; look for her to target the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes in the winter at Santa Anita.
* Pace Handicapping 101: The 2009 Kentucky Derby might have only two front-runners - likely favorite Quality Road and longshot Regal Ransom. One scenario has the Derby unfolding like a parade, Quality Road and Regal Ransom slowing it down and running one-two start to finish.
* After watching Pioneerof the Nile win four consecutive graded stakes in California, many West Coast handicappers remain unsold. Probably because only one of his wins - the Grade 2 Robert E. Lewis in February - was impressive. But boy, Pioneerof the Nile sure wants to beat you.
* California shippers to Kentucky badly underperformed this spring at Keeneland (Polytrack), where runners who made their last start at the Santa Anita (Pro-Ride) winter meet won just 3 of 44 and included eight losing favorites with just one win. Losing chalk included Ventura, Stardom Bound, Evita Argentina, and Monba. Another was Square Eddie, though his third in the Lexington Stakes sure seems to set him up as a live longshot a week from today in the run for the roses.
* Thumbing through a months-old copy of Daily Racing Form Simulcast Weekly and stumbled across a story about trainer Gary Stute. The profile, published Sept. 15, ended with the seemingly minor tidbit that owner Bo Hirsch "recently sent [Stute] a pair of promising 2-year-olds, including Papa Clem . . ."
* From the blog of handicapper Bob Ike: "I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist, but what I saw [April 18] at Santa Anita is most disturbing. As the horses loaded into the gate for the seventh race, the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap, Mr. Gruff was listed at 4-1 on the tote board. After breaking cleanly and getting to the front, his odds dropped to 5-2. He went on to win while paying $7.60, instead of the $10 or so bettors were expecting at post time.
"In the 10th race . . . favorite Foreign Taurean was 8-5 going into the gate, but took a huge drop to even-money after breaking well and setting the pace. Again, wire-to-wire, paying $4 instead of the $5.20 or $5.40 that was expected. In both cases a payoff drop of about 25 percent from what horseplayers could have expected to receive even if they had wagered at the last possible moment."