Updated on 09/15/2011 1:16PM

A steady diet of slowly run stakes


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Memorial Day weekend brings hope for resuscitation of the Hollywood Park stakes program. So far, small fields and short prices are the norm - 11 scheduled stakes for open company have produced six winning favorites, a median win mutuel of $5, and an average of 6.3 starters per race.

This is not unexpected; stakes favorites typically win at a higher rate than the 34 percent historical norm. Yet beyond the percentages, another disquieting trend has emerged. As quantity decreases, so has quality. In fact, Hollywood stakes winners are delivering performances that barely qualify as ordinary. Heroes for a day, their repeatedly tepid efforts hardly merit accolades.

At this meet, horses run slow and win anyway. It began with the first stakes of the meet. Media Mogul dead-heated for victory in the low-rated Will Rogers on April 20, a turf race for 3-year-olds that earned an uninspiring 91 Beyer Speed Figure. In his next start, May 20 in the Cinema Handicap, Media Mogul beat one horse.

Slowness has permeated the older turf division also. Fateful Dream won the Inglewood Handicap on April 21 with an allowance-caliber 99 Beyer. Irish Prize followed May 13 by winning the Fastness Handicap with a below-par 98. Notwithstanding these humble victories, Fateful Dream and Irish Prize are contenders Monday in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile.

The trend cuts through every division. Tranquility Lake earned a 97 Beyer winning the Wilshire on April 29, and will be favored Saturday in the Grade 1 Gamely for filly-mare turf runners. Printemps, a main-track runner, won the Hawthorne with a 97; turf marathon specialist Kudos won the Jim Murray with a 99.

Of the 11 scheduled stakes for open company, nine earned lower Beyers than the same stakes last year. The exceptions are 3-year-old fillies - Senorita winner Fantastic Filly (97 Beyer), and Railbird winner Golden Ballet (101). Those two, along with Mervyn LeRoy winner Futural (108) have been the lone bright spots in an otherwise vapid Hollywood calendar.

Hope is, the trend will shift this weekend. In fairness, some of those races were only preps. But over the next few days, California stakes runners should start running like horses who deserve the accolades they will receive. If not, this may be a long, hot summer of false hope.

Here is an early look at the weekend.


Grade 1 Gamely Handicap, fillies and mares, 1 1/8 miles on turf: In a race seemingly void of speed, Tranquility Lake may find herself on another lonely lead. Trained by Julio Canani, she figures to be badly overbet, and Bobby Frankel has been quietly confident that former superstar Happyanunoit will reproduce her best form, first start back. At the very least, she may keep Tranquility Lake honest up front.

$75,000 Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes, 2-year-olds, five furlongs: Few races are more formful than juvenile stakes. Fonz's won his May 12 debut with an outstanding 85 Beyer, but faces a formidable rival in Expected Program. Expected Program blew the turn, drifted eight paths wide, straightened out, and won clear. Don't hold the 64 Beyer against him; he would have run every bit as fast as Fonz's had he stayed straight. He has hugged the turn every time in subsequent workouts.


Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap, six furlongs: Trainer Jim Chapman, never short on confidence, believes Caller One is the best sprinter in the country. This year, he is the richest - one start, $1.2 million in the bank. Said Chapman: "He's bigger and stronger this year." Caller One has trained well since a runaway victory in a $2 million sprint in Dubai, and appears to have the Los Angeles field at his mercy. He may be the most probable stakes winner of the weekend.

Monday's stakes

Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile, one mile on turf: The lack of a legitimate favorite makes this the most appealing betting race of the weekend. Post position and trip will be everything, and it would be premature to speculate before the draw. Through Thursday, there had been 15 turf races this meet at one mile. Posts 1-5 have won 12 of 75 (16 percent); posts 6-10 have won just 3 of 42 (7 percent). Pressers have won 12 of the 15; three others won from behind.

Grade 3 Lazaro Barrera Stakes, 3-year-olds, seven furlongs: This race will be run fast. All year, 3-year-olds have been posting extraordinary speed figures. Can Squirtle Squirt, unbeaten in five starts at Hollywood Park, get seven furlongs? Will Early Flyer get a another good trip stalking the pace? Will Skip to the Stone run to the sparkling workouts he has recorded since returning from New York?

Flawlessly Stakes, $150,000, 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/8 miles on turf: Beefeater Baby's status is unconfirmed, as Frankel may try her on dirt. Perhaps it will not matter. La Vita E Belle has been working like a tiger for her first start since November. Frankel has an overabundance of 3-year-old fillies, and cannot afford to "give" them a race. First start back, La Vita E Belle could be positioned for an upset.