Unable to win the Hollywood Futurity on Saturday with favored Belgravia, the trainer-jockey team of Patrick Biancone and Julien Leparoux salvaged the long weekend with a closing-day stakes victory Monday at Hollywood Park.
Grande Melody, a 6-1 shot, won for the second time in three starts in the United States, beating 4-5 favorite Naissance Royale by a nose in the $150,000 Dahlia Handicap.
Third as the favorite in the Audrey Skirball-Kenis in her Hollywood Park debut Nov. 12, Grande Melody, a 3-year-old Grand Lodge filly, needed a powerful late burst to beat fellow Irish-bred Naissance Royale, who was looking for her second Grade II win of the year.
The final time for the 1 1/16 miles on turf was 1:40.96, with the last 16th of a mile completed in less than six seconds.
“We wanted to be a little closer to the pace than last time,” Leparoux said after his 402nd win of the year, tops in the country. “We had a different pace today. The leader wasn’t stopping, but my filly was the best today.”
Singalong, a 12-1 shot who had won her two previous races over the Hollywood Park grass, finished third, 2 1/4 lengths behind Naissance Royale and a length ahead of Charm The Giant.
Buoyed by the switch to Cushion Track, Hollywood Park showed gains in mutuel handle both on and off track at the autumn meet that ended Monday.
Although on-track attendance declined, handle was up 7% from 2005 and handle from all sources increased 13%.
“I’d say we were extremely pleased with the meet and most satisfied with the racing surface,” said Eual Wyatt, Hollywood Park’s vice president and general manager. “There’s no question that the Cushion Track was almost unanimously endorsed by horsemen and jockeys. The track was an expensive gamble and it was a gamble that paid off.”
The popularity of Cushion Track is evident by the fact that the Hollywood Park stable area will remain full even with the scene shifting to Santa Anita, which begins its winter-spring meet the day after Christmas. According to Wyatt, who has been at Hollywood Park in one capacity or another since 1979, that has not happened since his arrival.
Racing secretary Martin Panza said, “We’ll have about 1,850 horses. Nobody is leaving and if a few go, we have plenty of others waiting. We usually have about 1,200 or 1,300 between meets.”
Field size went from an average of 7.4 at the 2004 autumn meet to 8.5 this year and the per capita wagering on track rose from $251 to $295, which is why the on-track attendance decrease of 8% is startling.
“I have no reason to offer,” Wyatt said. “It is a little confounding.”
Garrett Gomez, who was aboard second-running Naissance Royale in the Dahlia Handicap, was the leading rider at the meet with 35 victories, four more than Victor Espinoza. He also had a meet-high five stakes wins.
Doug O’Neill topped the trainers, winning an autumn meet-record 24 races, two more than John Sadler. Christophe Clement, who trains Naissance Royale, was the leader in stakes victories with four.