Updated on 09/17/2011 12:53PM

Two stakes altered with larger fields in mind


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Thanksgiving weekend at Hollywood Park has been synonymous with major turf stakes for the last decade.

This year, the most important races run on that weekend - the $600,000 Hollywood Derby and the $500,000 Matriarch on Nov. 30 - will have a different look.

The derby has been extended by a furlong to 1 1/4 miles, while the Matriarch, for fillies and mares, has been reduced in distance from 1 1/8 miles to a mile, making it the richest turf race at the distance for fillies and mares in the United States.

The effect those changes will have on quality and field sizes will not necessarily be evident this year, Hollywood Park's racing secretary, Martin Panza argues.

"I want to run it a few years," he said.

Panza is hoping that a shorter Matriarch will lead to a larger field than the six who started in 2002. He said the proximity of the race to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf was costing the Matriarch starters.

"If they were going to win the Eclipse, they wouldn't run because they were afraid of blowing the Eclipse Award," he said. "It sort of lost its punch. If I get 10 or 11 horses I think it will serve its purpose. Will it decide the Eclipse Award? Probably not."

Panza is also taking a conservative approach to the Hollywood Derby, but is optimistic that a longer race could attract shippers from Europe in addition to starters from the Bay Meadows, Del Mar, and Oak Tree derbies, all of which are run over 1 1/8 miles.

Stanley Park, the winner of the Bay Meadows Derby on Nov. 1, is among the Hollywood Derby probables.

Panza said he has received calls about the Matriarch and Derby from horsemen around the nation, including Christophe Clement in New York, who said he was sending six horses to California next week.

"It's a little premature on who's coming," he said. "I've had several calls on the Matriarch. I feel comfortable on those races."

There is an ongoing concern that entries will be slow and field sizes small during the meeting, a trend that has plagued Hollywood Park recently and was an issue at the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita this fall. "We'll plug along," Panza said. "It won't be easy, especially with what's going on at Oak Tree."

Valenzuela gets 13-day ban

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela has been suspended for the first 13 racing days of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting after losing two appeals and withdrawing another for riding infractions at Del Mar during the summer.

Valenzuela, the leading rider in California this year, has been suspended from Dec. 26 to Jan. 10.

The suspensions were delayed until late December after a discussion by the Del Mar board of stewards - Ingrid Fermin, Dave Samuel and George Slender.

Samuel said the suspensions were postponed to prevent Valenzuela from taking the days during the upcoming Hollywood Park meeting, when some riders take an annual break. Last year, Valenzuela missed the first three weeks of that meeting to serve suspensions accumulated earlier in the year.

"It prevents a rider from accumulating days and taking them when they feel like it," Samuel said of the timing of the suspensions.

New restaurant going up at Santa Anita

Santa Anita will be constructing a bar and restaurant in a portion of the grandstand overlooking the paddock during the next six weeks.

The project was to begin after the Oak Tree meeting ended on Sunday and is scheduled for completion in time for the opening day of the winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26, according to Tom Austin, manager of the project.

"Not being done by that day is not an option," Austin said.

According to Chris McCarron, the track's general manager, the new area will include two sit-down restaurants surrounding a large bar. The area is not enclosed and is a short walk from the track's picturesque paddock and walking ring. The new restaurant will not include a view of the racetrack.

In the past, the area was popular with customers who watched simulcasting and live racing primarily via television.

"We are definitely aware we are displacing some people," McCarron said. He said a plan to accommodate those customers in other areas of the grandstand has not been finalized.

McCarron said Santa Anita plans to construct two permanent food stands in the paddock at the base of the two massive elevator towers for the Frontrunner restaurant. In addition, more restrooms are being constructed on the main floor of the grandstand.