11/01/2005 12:00AM

Turf racing canceled for entire fall meet

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Benoit & Associates
The Matriarch, won last year by Intercontinental, is one of three Grade 1's being canceled.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Southern California racing has been thrown into late-season disarray with the announcement from Hollywood Park Tuesday that turf racing has been canceled for its 31-day autumn meet, which begins next Wednesday.

Citing the unsatisfactory condition of a newly installed turf course at Hollywood, which failed to properly root and produced severe divots under recent workout conditions, track officials said Tuesday that the grass - called SeaDwarf Seashore Paspalum - would be removed and replaced with traditional Bermuda. The course had not been tested under racing conditions.

"We implemented a program that we thought would give us an outstanding turf course, and the reality is it didn't work," Eual Wyatt, the track's vice president and general manager, said Tuesday. "Rather than try to B.S. everybody, the right thing to do is take it out now, as quickly as we can, and replace it with a more traditional course."

The timing could not have been worse. Turf races account for 25 to 30 percent of the racing in Southern California, and the fall meet at Hollywood is centered around a three-day, $1.7 million Autumn Turf Festival that includes three Grade 1's on grass - the $400,000 Citation for older horses at 1 1/16 miles, the $500,000 Hollywood Derby for 3-year-olds at 1 1/4 miles, and the $500,000 Matriarch for fillies and mares at one mile.

Hollywood considered seeking an alternate site for the Autumn Turf Festival, but the money will instead be transferred into the overnight program. All nomination fees will be refunded.

"It was an option," stakes coordinator Dan Eidson said of moving the turf stakes to another track, "but we thought it was more important to address the overnight program."

Track officials and the Thoroughbred Owners of California were scheduled to meet Wednesday to hammer out a revised purse agreement. The original stakes schedule for Hollywood fall included 11 stakes on turf with purses of more than $2.3 million, which will be redistributed to the dirt-only overnight program.

"The total monies for overnight purses will be increased significantly as a result," racing secretary Martin Panza said.

A revised condition book has been printed, and is available online at hollywoodpark.com. While the purses in the new book will be revised after agreement is reached with the TOC, the Hollywood racing office will experiment with races not previously offered at major race meets in Southern California. They include claiming races for nowinners of two lifetime. The revised overnight program will include nonwinners of two going short and long for $16,000 claiming and $25,000 claiming. It will be a patchwork race meet.

"Hopefully the horsemen will support us the best they can," Wyatt said. "Will this be a banner meet? Of course not. We're going to do the best we can do, and we hope we get support."

The fall meet runs through Dec. 19, and is the first race meet since the track was sold by Churchill Downs Inc. to Bay Meadows Land Co. The turf-course renovation was under way even as the deal closed.

As word spread through the backstretch at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park on Tuesday, horsemen were undecided on how the cancellation of turf racing might affect their stables, or where they may ship for turf opportunities. Until the winter meet at Santa Anita begins Dec. 26, the nearest available turf courses will be Golden Gate and Turf Paradise.

"I had five horses to run in the first condition book, and four of them were on turf," trainer Jenine Sahadi said. "I'm thinking about maybe sending horses to Turf Paradise. The money's not going to be any good, but you can't sit here with turf horses for two months and not do anything."

The ramifications of the turf-racing cancellation might be felt internationally. Trainer Vladimir Cerin will consider the Japan Cup for Del Mar Derby winner Willow O Wisp, who was being aimed for the Hollywood Derby. Trainer Richard Mandella has a similar dilemma with 3-year-old Osidy and older horse Laura's Lucky Boy, who would have run in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup on Dec. 3.

Theoretically, by the time the Santa Anita winter meet begins, there could be a glut of turf horses ready to run. Santa Anita racing secretary Rick Hammerle said, "We could see a spike in the beginning of the meet, but once they run, the spike is gone."