Last Sunday's California Cup Distance Handicap proved that Moscow Burning is back. But trainer Jim Cassidy has no place to run his 5-year-old mare at Hollywood Park, which opens today with no turf racing for the meet.
"This situation is going to kill me," Cassidy said. "About 75% of my 28 horses are grass horses. We bought some horses in Europe with the idea of running them on the turf at this meet. Now we'll have to ship out of town in order for them to run."
Hollywood Park announced last week that its newly installed turf course was unsafe and not fit to be used for this meet. The Inglewood track hopes to offer grass racing by the time its next meet opens in April, but meantime there'll be no grass racing in Southern California until Santa Anita opens Dec. 26.
Hollywood's fall meet was anchored on turf racing. Down the drain is the Turf Festival over Thanksgiving weekend, which included three Grade I races worth $1.4 million. The event frequently attracted European horses.
It's not a very auspicious beginning for the San Mateo-based Bay Meadows Land Co., which bought Hollywood Park from Churchill Downs Inc. for $257.5 million. The deal closed in September, months after work on the new turf course had begun.
The new owners, whose core business is real estate development, have said that they'll continue to operate Hollywood Park as a racetrack for three years, pending one more industry push for casino gambling, but many local horsemen, Cassidy included, have their doubts.
"Hollywood Park is a thing of the past," Cassidy said. "If you're in the business, the time to make changes is now, not wait for something to happen three years from now."
Seven of Moscow Burning's nine victories have come on grass. A year ago, after her fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, Cassidy ran the filly against males in the Hollywood Turf Cup and she finished fourth, beaten by less than a length. After two races this year, Moscow Burning suffered a back injury and a hairline fracture of the pelvis. Her first start in more than six months was the 1 1/4 -mile Cal Cup race, which she won by three-quarters of a length.
The $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup, which had been scheduled for Dec. 3, is among the grass races that have vanished. Moscow Burning did well on the old Hollywood Park grass course last year. After a win there in a minor stake in April, she finished second in the Beverly Hills Handicap before the strong showing in the Turf Cup.
Cassidy said that a $200,000 race in mid-December at Calder, in South Florida, was a possibility for Moscow Burning.
Hollywood Park, which has been running grass races since 1967, ran 72 turf races -- 24% of the schedule -- last fall. This meet has been left with only six graded races. The only Grade I's -- the Hollywood Futurity and the Hollywood Starlet -- are for 2-year-olds and will be run on the final weekend of the season. Two stakes this weekend, originally carded for the grass, will be run on dirt.
Meantime, Churchill Downs Inc., which owned the track for five years, announced in a third-quarter report that it had $71.6 million in net earnings, compared to a loss of $3.8 million for the same three months a year ago. Included in the Churchill report was the revenue from the sale of Hollywood Park.
But everything isn't completely rosy for the Kentucky Derby company. Two of its tracks, Calder and the Fair Grounds, are still digging out from hurricane damage, and another Churchill property, Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., suffered heavy tornado damage last Sunday. Ellis Park, built in 1922, had already been struggling and for months the for-sale sign was out. Horsemen there fear that Churchill might not reopen the track next year.
Leaders at the Oak Tree meet that closed at Santa Anita on Sunday were jockey Garrett Gomez with 44 wins and trainer Steve Knapp with 16. Knapp, 48, took out his training license six years ago and had never led a meet before. His 16th win came with Brite Maneuvers, a horse he had claimed for $40,000, in the $125,000 California Cup Bob Benoit Juvenile. . . . Wild Fit, second to Folklore in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, was sold to Coolmore Stud for $3 million at a Kentucky auction. Patrick Biancone takes over from Jeff Mullins as trainer.