Hooray for Hollywood.
So proclaims one trainer. But another says it makes no never mind. Horses going from Santa Anita to race at Hollywood Park during it’s 30-day sprint that ends Dec. 20 shouldn’t find an appreciable difference in track surfaces.
But the slightest variance in track conditions and equipment changes can mean the difference between winning and losing, so bettors would be wise to be observant.
"I think there’s a little difference; I don’t think there’s a great difference," said 45-year-old trainer Dan Hendricks, who is headquartered at Santa Anita in landlocked Arcadia. "Santa Anita and Hollywood both are considered fast tracks. There’s a little more sand to Hollywood but in this business where a little difference can make a big difference for any given horse, it’s nice to have a change. The last thing I’d like to see is the same track (surface) at all three (including Del Mar) and the same turf course at all three. If a horse didn’t like any of them, you’d basically have to ship out of town. This way, you get a horse that favors coming from behind and Hollywood fits it better, or vice-versa. It gives you a little more option
"There’s not a great variance between tracks. It’s not like going from Southern California to Aqueduct or Florida. But subtle differences in track surfaces locally can make a difference in a horse’s performance, but so can adding or removing blinkers or switching a horse from turf to dirt. Moves like those can make a big difference between running third and winning. Sometimes horses need to go to Hollywood. A little change can be good for them."
Mel Stute, who has been training nearly 60 years, says any difference is minimal.
"It might effect certain horses a little bit," the 76-year-old Indiana native said of moving from Arcadia to Inglewood. "It depends what the trackman (track superintendent) does. If he cuts up Hollywood’s surface and softens it, like he did last year, and puts all that sand in it, horses come back looking like they just ran on a muddy track. That does have an effect, I think."
Mike Mitchell has trained at both tracks but has called Hollywood home for the past few years. The 55-year-old Bakersfield native swears by it these days.
"I’ve always trained at Hollywood, only because in my opinion it’s the safest race track of all of them," Mitchell said. "It gets a little hard in July when they’re racing on it. If I’ve ever had a complaint about Hollywood it’s in July when it gets hot and the track seems to get a little hard. But other than that, right now it’s beautiful.
"I’ve trained at both Santa Anita and Hollywood and people will say I train at Hollywood because I live in Redondo Beach (and it’s easier for Mitchell to commute) but that’s not it at all. Often when I was living in Arcadia I trained at Hollywood because I just never liked Santa Anita’s surface. It changes too much. Overall I feel like Hollywood has been the safer track for me.
"I don’t think horses that have been running at Santa Anita have to make a big adjustment to run well at Hollywood. A couple years ago Hollywood was a little slower but I believe it’s faster now and not much of a disadvantage. Two or three years ago I would have said horses would have to be based at Hollywood and work there to run better."
THE HOMESTRETCH: Men’s Exclusive has been retired. The courageous and popular 10-year-old gelding was plagued with foot problems since he was a yearling, but that didn’t stop him from running and winning at racing’s highest level, earning $1,447,928 through 11 victories, 16 seconds and four thirds from 47 starts for trainer Wesley Ward, who handled the California-bred son of Exclusive Ribot with kid gloves throughout his career. "We’re treating him now with medication to make sure there’s no infection in his lungs so he doesn’t catch pneumonia when we do turn him out," Ward said. Men’s Exclusive, the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Hollywood Park in 1997, will be retired to the Corona farm of his late owner, octogenarian H. E. (Gene) Reed. "He’s been in the same stall and had the same groom ever since I’ve had him," Ward said of the multiple stakes winner, whose last victory came in an allowance race at Santa Anita on March 19. He finished seventh and last in his final race, the Ca Cup Sprint on Nov. 8. "He’s a sweetheart, a wonderful horse," said Ward, the Eclipse Award winner as top apprentice jockey of 1984 when he won 335 races and more than $5 million in purses. "I’ll tell you this; he was (bleeped) off about losing his last race. He’s usually a sweet, kind, gentle horse, but he bit the groom, pinned his ears back and was mad because he didn’t win or at least run well."