04/23/2006 11:00PM

Thumbs-up for turf course

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The most important turf race run at Hollywood Park this season may not be one of the $750,000 races in early July - the American Oaks or the CashCall Mile. It may be Wednesday's fifth race, an optional claimer at one mile.

That race will be the first time the course has been tested since it was resodded last November. Turf racing at the Hollywood autumn meeting last year was canceled when the course failed to take root after having been replanted late last summer.

The new turf course was given its most extensive test on Sunday, when 17 horses worked. Trainers and exercise riders gave the course generally favorable reviews, with some voicing concern that the course was too firm.

During workouts, the horses seemed to be getting over the top of the short-cut surface with few divots thrown.

Heavenly Ransom, entered for Wednesday's Wilshire Handicap, was one of the first horses on the course. Trainer Ray Bell said he felt the filly handled the course well in an exercise that was slightly slower than a breeze. She was not given a time.

"It will be fast and firm," Bell said. "It looks like they have the right recipe. It's a matter of how it will hold up over time. Right now, I'd give it a thumbs-up."

Humberto Gomez, an exercise rider for trainer Julio Canani, compared the course favorably to the one at Santa Anita.

"I could say they're equal," Gomez said. "I think it's better than last year. It's more even."

In the first week of the meeting, the course will be used sparingly, according to racing secretary Martin Panza. He said two races are planned on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, and three on Friday night and Saturday.

Panza said that if the course is too firm, it can be aerated to soften the ground.

"The roots are down five and a half or six inches, and a lot are down to eight inches," he said.

The new course is a Bermuda grass known as GN-1, and was developed by professional golfer Greg Norman. A similar Bermuda grass is used on the turf course at Del Mar.

Growing conditions have been favorable in recent months, with warm weather.

The cancellation of turf racing at the 2005 fall meeting was the second consecutive year the track cut turf racing short during a meeting. In the fall of 2004, turf racing was canceled for the final week because of unsafe conditions, largely caused by drainage problems.

Panza said the new course has more sand than clay on the top layer, which should aid drainage in the event of rain.