Hollywood, TOC Hammer Out New Purse Agreement

Hollywood Park, in an agreement hammered out with horse owners, will restructure its overnight purses for the upcoming Autumn meeting and will also cut back the total number of racing days after losing its turf course, the California Horse Racing Board was told Nov. 3.

The track has cut 11 stakes races worth $2.3 million as a result of the turf problem.

"The turf course that we've inherited, in fact, does not exist," Jack Liebau, president of the newly-formed Hollywood Park Racing Association, told the board. "The old turf is gone and the new sod will be laid Monday. "

The upcoming season, which begins Wednesday, is the first for Hollywood Park under new ownership after it was sold by Churchill Downs Incorporated to the Bay Meadows Land Company.

CDI began the turf project in July while it still owned the track.

Liebau said the course was not suitable for racing and, after meeting with the Thoroughbred Owners of California, they "came up with a plan in the best interests of everyone concerned."

After testing the new sod, Hollywood Park racing officials announced this week that turf racing would not be possible this fall because the new sod did not take hold and could not sustain racing over it.

Drew Couto, representing the TOC, told the racing commission that overnight purses would be increased between 12 and 14% for the meeting. The track will cut back the number of live racing dates from 31 to 27 while averaging eight races per day. The track could add one day later in the meeting if the horse inventory is adequate.

The schedule has not been determined, although the first two weeks will not be affected.

In addition, Hollywood Park will add $166,000 to purses for allowance races on the turf at Golden Gate Fields, giving Southern California owners at least some option for running on the grass. The racing secretaries at Golden Gate and Hollywood are expected to determine the conditions for those races.

Shipping costs will be paid for horses that ship from Southern California to Northern California to run in the selected turf races.

However, there was no replacing the stakes schedule, which included the $1.7 million Turf Festival, a fixture at the Hollywood Park fall meeting since 1991.

"Stakes horses are the one group that could not be accommodated," Couto said of the arrangement. "We have had a very bad year (for turf racing). Turf races at Fair Grounds don't exist. Calder has been decimated. Churchill Downs is all that's left and Churchill ends the 27th of November."

Commissioner Richard Shapiro challenged that, to Liebau's irritation, saying Golden Gate could host a couple of stakes races as well if Hollywood Park were to kick in an extra $200,000.

"A lot of trainers say they have no where to go with their upper-level turf horses," he said. "Why not lower the overnight purse increases to, say, 8 to 10 percent to free purse money for a couple of big stakes at Golden Gate?"

"We are dealing with very difficult circumstances," Liebau responded tersely. "It's nobody's fault but we have to deal with the facts as they are. We do not have a turf course. It's a terrible situation.

"The parties have met and came up with a solution. And I guess the solution is not acceptable to you, Mr. Shapiro. The 14 percent is what we decided we needed in order to get through the meet."

CHRB chairman John Harris questioned whether it was legal for Hollywood Park to move purse monies to another track's purse account, but Couto said he felt it would be acceptable under existing rules as a "special event."

Cancellation of its turf stakes makes the Hollywood Futurity Dec. 17 and Hollywood Starlet the following day, both worth $250,000, the focus of the meeting. Racing secretary Martin Panza has added two $100,000 dirt stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, The Real Quiet Nov. 26 and the Sharp Cat Nov. 27 as preps. The total stakes schedule was reduced to about $1.5 million in purses.

Prior to the meeting, Eual Wyatt, Hollywood Park's vice president and general manager, said the decision to re-sod the turf course "was the right thing to do."

He noted that although the new turf failed to take , the major problem with the course -- its drainage -- has been repaired.

"We'll limp through this meet and we'll have a better profile for the turf," Wyatt said. "It won't be the greatest (meeting) but it will be the best it can be considering the circumstances"

In other action, the commission learned that Cal Expo plans to continue its experiment with harness racing at its summer State Fair meeting in 2006 in Sacramento, foregoing a Thoroughbred and mixed breed meeting for a second year.

Norm Towne, representing Cal Expo, said the harness horsmen are enjoying a much stronger meeting as a result of the summer lead-in, even though handle and attendance was way down when compared to the 2004 meeting. Towne said that the Cal Expo board of directors are exploring the possibility of adding a turf course and five-furlong inner dirt track inside of its one-mile oval that would allow the track to run both Thoroughbreds and harness racing at the State Fair.