04/23/2006 11:00PM

Turf racing returns for opening day


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Two grass races are scheduled Wednesday at Hollywood Park. It is welcome news on opening day of the 2006 spring-summer racing meet.

The 61-day meet begins with a new course, and when Icy Ridge starts as a favorite in race 5, he will be running in the first Hollywood Park grass race in nine months.

The meet also is the first spring-summer meet since Bay Meadows Land Co. purchased Hollywood from Churchill Downs last year. Vice president and general manager Eual Wyatt said Hollywood "is conducting business as if we are going to be here for a long time."

There are plenty of horses to get it started. Racing secretary Martin Panza said 1,900 horses are on the grounds, and early indications are that a great number of 2-year-olds are ready to run. The 2-year-old program has always been a staple of the spring-summer meet; there are four races for 2-year-olds in the first condition book.

Turf races, however, historically account for 30 percent of the Hollywood racing program, and remain a centerpiece for the marquee events. They include the Grade 1 American Oaks on July 2, a 1 1/4-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies that complements the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 8. The meet ends July 16.

The Wednesday card includes the Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap for fillies and mares at a mile on turf, led by Ticker Tape and Beautyandthebeast. The Wilshire is a prelude to the $750,000 CashCall Mile, a Grade 3 turf race for fillies and mares July 1.

Ticker Tape, who has won eight races and $1.4 million from 29 starts, is the 119-pound topweight in the Wilshire. Her best season was 2004, when she won five stakes, including the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park. Since 2004, Ticker Tape has won 1 of 12 starts. She is trained by Jim Cassidy.

The field also includes Heaven Ransom, Tanta Suerta, Megec Blis, Dream Lady, Flip Flop, and Dreams Come True.

The jockey colony is in flux. Last year's leading rider, Garrett Gomez, will ride this spring in Kentucky and New York; Kent Desormeaux has relocated. It leaves Patrick Valenzuela and Victor Espinoza as top riders, and northern California apprentice Martin Garcia is expected to relocate to Southern California in May.

Race 5 favorite Icy Ridge arrived last fall from Europe "to take a shot in the Generous Stakes," trainer Mike Puhich said. When turf racing was canceled at the autumn meet, Icy Ridge had nowhere to run.

"We figured, what the heck, let's see how he does on dirt," Puhich said.

Not so good, it turns out. After two modest efforts on dirt, Icy Ridge was freshened and returned March 18 with a good fifth in a grass stakes at Santa Anita. He runs Wednesday in a first-level allowance that Puhich said "is going to be his coming-out race."

No rider on opening day is better positioned than Espinoza, who rides Beautyandthebeast, stakes winner Melanyhasthepapers in race 1, and "live" maidens for Mike Mitchell in races 6 and 8.

Recently gelded Tug o' War and front-runner Remembering Star race for Mitchell over their home track. Is it an advantage? "It is an edge when you train over the surface and don't have to ship over," Mitchell said.

Tug o' War finished seventh last out, then was gelded. "He was a real jerk to work with; he was a miserable son of a gun to train and you knew he was not giving you his all," Mitchell said.

Since being gelded, Tug o' War has trained super. Tug o' War and Remembering Star each run 6 1/2 furlongs; Remembering Star will be strongly favored in race 8. Mitchell said blinkers are to keep him focused.

* Replays of the Hollywood Park races will be shown on TVG the following mornings at 7:30 Pacific time. The exception is Saturday races, which will be replayed Sundays on TVG at 6 a.m. Pacific.

Meet highlights

April 30California Gold Rush program$1,310,000
May 29Shoemaker BC Mile (G1)300,000
May 29Gamely BC Stakes (G1)300,000
June 10Charles Whittingham Handicap (G1)300,000
July 1CashCall Mile (G3)750,000
July 2American Oaks (G1)750,000
July 2Vanity Handicap (G1)300,000
July 2Triple Bend Handicap (G1)300,000
July 8Hollywood Gold Cup (G1)750,000