04/18/2004 11:00PM

Track tries to avoid purse cuts


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - After purse cuts at three consecutive race meetings in Southern California because of lower-than-expected business, Hollywood Park officials are hoping cuts won't be necessary during the spring-summer meeting that begins on Wednesday.

Hollywood Park has already cut purses to some extent for the upcoming meeting. The prize money was reduced for eight stakes races when

the stakes schedule was announced in February. The changes were made after Hollywood Park officials held meetings with the Thoroughbred Owners of California, according to Rick Baedeker, the Hollywood Park president. The TOC must approve all purse agreements with California racetracks.

"We had a real productive discussion with the TOC on purses," Baedeker said. "Rather than being overly optimistic and be in a situation that we may be overpaid, we'd like to have a strong run to reverse the trend and announce an increase.

"We'd very much like to avoid a cut. The morale is quite fragile."

Purses were cut last year at the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita and the Hollywood Park autumn meeting, as well as at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting that ended on Sunday. Daily purses averaged $446,452 (including stakes) at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting. Before those three meets, purses were increased retroactively at the Del Mar and Fairplex Park meets last summer.

At the start of the Hollywood Park meet, overnight purses in some categories will be lower than at last year's meet and the recently concluded Santa Anita meeting. Maiden special weight sprints will have purses of $43,000. Last year, the same race was worth $44,000 at Hollywood in June. By comparison, Santa Anita offered a purse of $46,000 for maiden special weight sprints. Sprints for maiden $25,000 claimers are worth $15,000 this year at Hollywood Park, a drop of $1,000 from 2003.

* The most noticeable change at Hollywood from last year is the installation of a big-screen infield television that measures 21 by 38 feet. It replaces a 16-by-30-foot screen that had moderate picture quality.