Grass looks greener to trainers at turfless Hollywood

Nov 7, 2005 11:51 PM

Paraphrasing what "The Soup Nazi" told antagonists on an iconic "Seinfeld" episode, here’s what Hollywood Park decreed to Southern California horsemen last week: "No turf for you!"

Due to a grass course that looks worse than my lawn, there will be no turf racing during the Hollywood Park meet that begins tomorrow and ends on Dec. 19. The track cited unsatisfactory condition of a recently installed grass course that failed to root properly, causing dangerous divots during workouts.

Thus Hollywood’s $1.75 million Autumn Turf Festival, which attracted equine stars worldwide, has been discarded, as have standard overnight grass races, which comprised about 25 percent of last fall’s races. Nomination fees for stakes have been refunded and much of that money will be put into overnight purses. All races will be run on the main track this meet, which has been reduced from 31 days to 27 due to a revised purse structure.

Reaction from horsemen ranged from acceptance to anger. Initially, word of the cancellation was stunning, sudden and surprising, but after a few days, it was starting to sink in.

"There’s nothing we can do about it, but it’s hard to understand why Hollywood wouldn’t make a deal with one of the other tracks to try and run a Festival," said respected Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. "It’s a little hard to understand how a major set of stakes like that can be scrapped without considering racing a day or two at Santa Anita, or maybe even Del Mar.

"I don’t know what would have prevented that but I think the racing industry deserved an explanation of why it couldn’t be done or why it wasn’t considered."

Mandella was asked if the announcement came as a surprise.

"Well sure, absolutely, to me," he said. "I had no idea, but the shock is, they just say they’re going to scrap the stakes program and put the money into overnight races. I hope the TOC (Thoroughbred Owners of California) and those (influential) groups are very curious as to how this came about. I would have hoped that Hollywood would have at least talked to Santa Anita or another track to put a weekend together.

"When such a major program is scrapped in a game where people spend millions of dollars on horses for those big races, and then somebody just wipes them out and not say, ”˜We gave it a try,’ and just decides to put the stakes money in overnight races for those little bleeping maiden 25s”¦ well, we deserve better."

Vladimir Cerin was considerably more resigned.

"There were rumblings (about the turf races being terminated)," said the trainer, who will be 51 on Nov. 26, "but you never know. The race track is 99 percent rumor, but there’s nothing you can do about this, just deal with it the best way you can."

"Nobody’s happy about it but nobody can do anything because it wasn’t done maliciously," said trainer Barry Abrams. "It wasn’t done intentionally and it might help in the long run."

"Who’s to blame and who cares?" said trainer Dan Hendricks. "It happened. We have to deal with it. If it rained for six weeks we wouldn’t run on the turf anyway. Some people are blowing it out of proportion. Six weeks off wouldn’t hurt anybody. It would help the horses, the horsemen and the bettors."

Ron McAnally, like many trainers with an abundance of quality turf runners, was considering unprecedented measures.

"I’m shocked, but I said last summer, ”˜I hope they don’t take the rooting out,’ because Santa Anita made the same mistake on its turf course 12 or 14 years ago," the 73-year-old Hall of Famer said. "When the rooting is removed, it takes two or three years for it to re-root. To me it was an absolutely bad mistake.

"If you put in a new lawn and a dog runs across it, he tears it out because there are no roots in the bottom. It takes a couple of years. The only thing I can do are things we wouldn’t normally do, race at Golden Gate and perhaps at Turf Paradise, where I’ve never run a horse. We’ll try to do the best we can."

The homestretch

Six years ago, Steve Knapp was boss man at his own uniform company. Now he is one of California’s rising training stars after capturing his first title, moving past his sometime advisor, Jeff Mullins, on the final two days at Oak Tree.

"I beat a good trainer," said the 48-year-old Knapp. "I’ve gone to him many times for advice and he’s been more than willing to give me some good tips. He’s a nice guy and a good horseman."

”¡ Kurt Hoover, whose presence on camera is as easy to take as vanilla pudding, will host Hollywood’s replay show. He takes over for Mike Willman, who recently joined Santa Anita as its publicity director.

”¡ Garrett Gomez, the riding star on Breeders’ Cup day with victories aboard Stevie Wonderboy and Artie Schiller, along with Greg Gilchrist, trainer of probable Sprint champion Lost In The Fog, will answer questions and sign photos at the Gold Coast on Monday, Nov. 13, at 9 a.m.

”¡ I see where the Eagles suspended T.O. That’s T.O., as in Talk Overkill.