Experience a plus on Hollywood Park’s new track
Five of the six main track winners on the first day of Hollywood Park’s fall meet had something in common.
All had worked at least once over the new Cushion Track, the $8-million synthetic surface that was publicly unveiled Wednesday.
Mysterious Cat was the only winner who’d had no experience with the surface. The 8-year-old, who rallied on the outside to win for the sixth time in his career, had recorded his most recent drill at Santa Anita.
Most of the winners took the wide route, but Honky Tonk Baby skimmed the rail to win the fourth race and Itsachelseagirl, who had all kinds of trouble when trying to make her way through inside, was probably best in the first. It did seem clear, however, that the lead was not the place to be.
“I really like the track,” said jockey Victor Espinoza, who won two races on the new surface, taking the second with Brite Red State and the eighth with Dixie Music Roll. “Most of the horses I’ve ridden feel totally different on it. It’s more bouncy and the horses have more confidence.
“I learned a lot riding a couple of weekends on the Polytrack at Keeneland. I’m glad I did it because the experience really helped. The Keeneland surface is different, but both really help the horses.”
Two horses, Steve’s Boy and Captain Squire, the favorite in the seventh race, were pulled up but neither appeared to be seriously injured.
A 4-year-old Scherando gelding, Steve’s Boy was taken off the track as a precautionary measure. This was the second consecutive time the California-bred had failed to make the course. He was also taken off after being pulled up at Fairplex Park on Sept. 17.
According to Hollywood Park steward Scott Chaney, jockey Alex Solis, who rode Captain Squire, wasn’t happy with the way the 7-year-old gelding was traveling, but Captain Squire walked off the track. The Florida-bred has won nine of 35 and earned more than $1.3 million.
“The whole industry is doing everything it can to make things better and [Cushion Track] is a steppingstone,” jockey Corey Nakatani said. “Hopefully, they are moving in the right direction, and it seems like they are.”
Philip Bond, the overseas business manager for Equestrian Surfaces, the English company that manufactures Cushion Track, said the early reviews from trainers were good.
“The initial response from trainers that I’ve spoken to has been very positive,” he said.
Hampered by trouble and wide trips at Del Mar, Porto Santo couldn’t have had a better journey Wednesday, and the result was a victory in the $62,000 Bien Bien Stakes, the opening-day feature at Hollywood Park.
The beaten favorite in his first three races in the U.S. at Del Mar, Porto Santo, a 3-year-old, French-bred son of Kingsalsa, didn’t disappoint as the even-money choice in the restricted race. He ran the mile in 1:34.77.
Saving ground under Espinoza, Porto Santo was able to find a crease along the rail in the stretch and went on to a comfortable one-length win over 9-5 second choice Zann, who finished a nose in front of 8-1 shot Potential.
Northern Soldier and Sartorial completed the order of finish. Peter And Zoe was scratched.
This was the fourth win in 10 starts for Porto Santo, owned by Bernie Schiappa, Ernie Moody’s Mercedes Stable LLC and the Terry Lanni Family Trust and trained by Julio Canani.
“I told him to try and save ground,” Canani said of Espinoza. Porto Santo “walked out of the gate in his first race at Del Mar, then got bumped in the stretch and the second time he was very wide. I should never have run him in the Del Mar Derby. He’s a little horse and three races [in seven weeks] was too much. This is his best distance.”