The lack of horse inventory has troubled the 2009 spring/summer Hollywood Park season from its outset, so it's not surprising that the closing day $150,000 Sunset Handicap (gr. IIT) July 19 attracted just four horses to the turf course.
Brought about in great measure by the struggling economy, the situation first became noticeable with small fields during the final couple of weeks at Santa Anita and progressively worsened. Hollywood lost one day early in the meet when it couldn't fill the prescribed number of races. Soon after, the track dropped Wednesday programs from its weekly schedule all together.
That helped ease some of the pressure on the inventory for the most common racing divisions, such as maiden claiming, enabling the track to get through the meet with mostly decent-sized fields. But it did nothing for turf distance horses, who, because of the types of races carded in the U.S. are in short supply due to limited opportunities to run, explained racing secretary Martin Panza.
"There are just not a lot of long-distance horses, here or anywhere else (in the country), not at this time," Panza said. "Most of these types of horses are going to come from Europe. They are usually established horses who can compete at the stakes level and their prices are not coming down. In this type of economy, people aren't buying them over there and bringing them to California."
He noted that Santa Anita's traditional closing day feature, the San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT), had just five runners. The same number competed in Hollywood's June 13 Round Table Handicap (gr. IIIT), which is the Sunset's major prep.
All of which makes this year's 1 1/2-mile Sunset, the third race on the season finale program, a hum-drum affair. Most of the attention will be focused on the multiple graded winners Spring House, who is closing in on the $1-million mark in career earnings, and Obrigado.
Trained by Julio Canani for owner R.D. Hubbard, the 7-year-old Spring House ran second in the 'Capistrano April 19, then came back with a 1 1/4-length victory in the Golden Gate Fields Turf (gr. IIIT) in his most recent start May 30. Alex Solis has the mount on the 121-pound highweight.
A winner of nine of 41 starts for earnings of $941,284, Spring House ran third in the 2007 Sunset. The Chester House gelding has won two of five starts in 2009, including the San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. IIT), when he beat his old rival Obrigado at 1 1/2 miles on the Santa Anita turf course.
Obrigado ended a 15-race losing streak for trainer Neil Drysdale when he overpowered four rivals in the 1 3/4-mile Round Table last month. Owned by Gary Seidler and Peter Vegso, the 6-year-old French-bred gelding rallied from last as the 11-10 choice to sweep past Sunset foe Porfido for a 3 1/4-length win with Joel Rosario aboard.
Rosario is back again as Obrigado gets one pound from Spring House. Obrigado ran sixth in the Golden Gate Fields Turf the last time he met Spring House, while enduring a wide trip. The bay has done well at Hollywood, however, posting a 1-3-3 record in nine tries. He enters the Sunset with six wins in 31 starts for earnings of $666,504.
The 7-year-old Chilean-bred Porfido, trained by Bobby Frankel, finished third in the 2008 Sunset. He has won eight of 33 starts for earnings of $513,908. Owned by Sumaya Us Stables, his last victory came in an allowance race at Santa Anita in January 2008. In eight starts since, he has finished second or third on six occasions.
Black Astor, a 5-year-old from the Lisa Lewis barn, has won three of 15 starts for earnings of $139,624. The Black Minnaloushe gelding has not started since splitting a 10-horse field in the San Marcos (gr. IIT) in January at Santa Anita.
$150,000 Sunset Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 3, 2 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Obrigado (FR), J Rosario, 120, N D Drysdale
2. Porfido (CHI), D R Flores, 117, R J Frankel
3. Black Astor (KY), J Talamo, 114, L L Lewis
4. Spring House (KY), A O Solis, 121, J C Canani