05/07/2009 11:00PM

Strawberry Tart in tough spot

Vassar Photography
Siren Lure, winning the Golden Gate Sprint in March, is now targeting the Los Angeles, a race he won in 2006.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Strawberry Tart zipped through two sprints at Oaklawn Park this year, winning both races by a combined 19 3/4 lengths. The performances justify starting her in Sunday's $100,000 Railbird Stakes at Hollywood Park, although they may not afford her much respect from bettors.

With two undefeated rivals in the Railbird field - the four-time stakes winner Carlsbad and two-time winner Witty - Strawberry Tart may only be the third choice in the betting of the Grade 3 race for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs.

"The question is, Do we fit?" trainer Jeff Bonde said on Friday.

Owned by George and Mary Clare Schmitt, Strawberry Tart won a $30,000 claiming race for maidens by 14 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn on March 13 and an optional claimer by 5 1/4 lengths on April 3. In both races, she sped to an early lead and pulled clear through the stretch.

The Railbird, which has nine entrants, will be longest race of Strawberry Tart's career.

"The race is a very strong race, on paper," Bonde said. "This will test her class quality. She raced extremely well at Oaklawn Park, and she's had good [workout] times at Hollywood Park. Each work is a little bit sharper."

Bonde was encouraged by Strawberry Tart's five-furlong workout in 58.60 seconds on May 3, the fastest of 36 recorded at the distance.

"She galloped out in 1:11 and three-fifths," he said. "We thought she had a very good work."

Bought for $13,500 as a yearling at the Barretts January mixed sale in 2007, Strawberry Tart made one start last year, finishing fifth in a maiden race at the Solano County Fair. She emerged with a stifle injury that kept her out of training until the winter. Since then, Strawberry Tart has made up for that absence.

Field size down from 2008

Hollywood Park is averaging 7.6 starters per race since the beginning of the spring-summer meeting on April 22, a figure that is down more than half a starter per race compared to the entire 2008 spring-summer meeting. Last year, the track averaged 8.25 starters per race during the meeting.

Part of the drop can be attributed to a smaller Thoroughbred population in California during a tough economic climate that may be keeping owners from buying horses. According to Ed Halpern, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers organization, the Thoroughbred population at California racetracks has dropped by about 500 horses since January.

The CTT takes a monthly census of horses in training for the organization's workers' compensation program. Halpern said there are 400 fewer Thoroughbreds throughout California registered in the program than in the January poll. Halpern said that 80 percent of the trainers in the state are part of the program, and speculated that the number of horses no longer in the state could be closer to 500.

Racing is currently being conducted in California at Golden Gate Fields and Hollywood Park. The reasons horses have left the circuit include injury, retirement, the relocation of stables, or a lack of competitiveness. The loss of horses comes despite the annual influx of 2-year-olds to the track.

Halpern put the current number of Thoroughbreds in the insurance program at 3,900, down from 4,500 in past years.

The issue of horse inventory has been a dominant subject at Hollywood Park this spring since the track canceled its April 30 program due to insufficient entries. There is fear among horsemen that further days could be cut before the end of the meeting on July 19. Hollywood Park's track president, Jack Liebau, said last month that he hopes the track will not lose any more days of racing during the spring-summer meeting.

Halpern said that if the horse inventory appears low, Hollywood Park should consider canceling a weekday in advance to allow more horses to be available on other racing days.

Since Hollywood Park's April 30 cancellation, field sizes have been mixed. Thursday's eight-race program had 51 runners. Sunday's nine-race card has 83 horses entered on a nine-race program, including also-eligibles.

Seven point for Los Angeles Cap

The absence of sprint division leader Georgie Boy from the $100,000 Los Angeles Handicap next Saturday will lead to a competitive field for the six-furlong race.

As of Friday, there were seven probable starters - Davos, Dehere Again, Guns on the Table, Mutak Gold, Paul's Hope, Siren Lure, and Soul City Slew. Soul City Slew won the Grade 2 Potrero Grande Handicap at Santa Anita on April 4, the 6-year-old gelding's first stakes win of his 36-race career.

Siren Lure, who won the 2006 Los Angeles Handicap, has won two stakes in the last six months at Golden Gate Fields - the Sausalito Stakes in November and the Golden Gate Sprint in March. He was fifth in the Grade 2 San Francisco Mile on turf at Golden Gate Fields on April 25.

Guns on the Table, third in the Grade 3 Daytona Handicap on turf at Santa Anita in February, was recently bought by the partnership of Dennis Hogan, Legacy Ranch, Jeff Lewis, and the Summit Racing syndicate of Bob Ike and Brett Lindenbaum.

Georgie Boy is batting a quarter crack and is not in training, according to trainer Kathy Walsh.