12/16/2006 12:00AM

Valenzuela may miss opening day

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Jockey Patrick Valenzuela is unlikely to ride on the opening-day program of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26 because of lingering soreness from a rib injury suffered on Nov. 26, according to his agent, Jim Pegram.

Valenzuela suffered three fractured ribs when he was kicked in the paddock before the fifth race at Hollywood Park. At the time, Valenzuela was tied for third in the standings of the Hollywood Park fall meeting with 14 wins.

"It's a day-to-day thing on how his ribs are doing," Pegram said. "A couple of days ago I didn't think he'd make it for opening day, but he's hoping to. I'm looking at the first of January, that's what's realistic now.

"He's making progress. They're just sore and it takes time to heal. He's definitely better than he was two weeks ago."

T. H. Approval retired at age 5

T. H. Approval, the winner of three graded stakes this year, has been retired after suffering a sesamoid injury in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup on Dec. 9.

Owned by Tadahiro Hotehama and trained by Eduardo Inda, T. H. Approval, 5, ended his career with 7 wins in 28 starts for earnings of $863,708.

In the Turf Cup, T. H. Approval finished seventh, never reaching contention. Earlier this year, he won the San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita for the second consecutive year, the Sunset Breeders' Cup Handicap here, and the Del Mar Handicap. He finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs last month.

Stud plans have not been finalized.

Field size, purses up significantly

The addition of Cushion Track, plus the resumption of turf racing, resulted in a significant increase in average field size during the Hollywood Park fall meeting, which closes Monday.

This year's meet will average approximately 8.4 starters per race, compared to an average of 7.45 horses per race last year. One year ago, there was no turf racing because the course was in poor condition and needed repair.

But the real revelation has been Cushion Track, which lured several trainers from the East Coast, caused a number of trainers usually based at Santa Anita to move their runners here, and resulted in a full stable area at Hollywood Park.

"We had some maintenance problems, but the last month things have been great," said Martin Panza, Hollywood Park's vice president of racing. "It doesn't eliminate injuries, but it greatly reduces them."

The increased field sizes have spurred handle, which led to larger purses. According to Panza, Hollywood will pay out an average of $269,000 per day for its non-stakes races this meet after initially projecting a daily payout of about $242,000.

"We were able to make a lot more allowance races go, and split maiden races," Panza said. "We're up astronomically, and it has a lot to do with Cushion Track. Trainers are able to get their horses to the races. They're not dealing with little problems that keep them from the races."

Figueroa unhurt after being thrown

Jockey Omar Figueroa escaped injury on Friday when he was thrown from his mount in the fourth race.

Figueroa was riding Devil Red when he was unseated shortly after the start of a maiden claimer at 5 1/2 furlongs when Devil Red lugged in dramatically. Figueroa was taken to a local hospital for precautionary X-rays of his pelvis, but was cleared to ride his four mounts on Saturday, according to his agent, Debbie Olsen.

General Meeting euthanized

The pensioned stallion General Meeting was euthanized on Friday because of complications from skin cancer, Betty and Larry Mabee announced in a statement.

General Meeting was the sire of such major stakes winners as General Challenge, Excellent Meeting, Yearly Report, and Western Hemisphere. His progeny earned more than $25 million.

Kure, simulcast director, dies at 49

Andy Kure, the director of simulcasting for Magna Entertainment and Santa Anita, died Thursday after a long battle with cancer. Kure was 49.

Kure started out as a parimutuel clerk at Longacres and became that track's first simulcast coordinator at a time when those positions were in their infancy. He later was director of offtrack betting and simulcast development at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.

Kure joined Santa Anita in the late 1990's. He continued working until earlier this year, despite his illness.

"Andy had a wealth of experience, and although he worked primarily behind the scenes, we all benefited from his knowledge of the simulcasting business," Santa Anita president Ron Charles said in a statement. "Andy's passing is a huge loss for all of his friends, Santa Anita, and the entire racing industry."

In Kure's memory, donations can be made to the USC Norris Cancer Center.

- additional reportingby Jay Privman