Oak Tree be­gins un­der the lights

Los Angeles Times - - Sports - Eric Sond­heimer eric.sond­heimer@latimes.com

Hollywood Park hosts a 22-day meet­ing, with Zeny­atta the fea­tured at­trac­tion.

Get ready for an ex­per­i­ment to see whether thor­ough­bred rac­ing fans in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia are will­ing to come out in large num­bers on a Thurs­day or Fri­day night over the next month to watch horse rac­ing in the mid­dle of foot­ball sea­son.

“That’s the $64,000 ques­tion,” said Sher­wood Chilling­worth, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Oak Tree Rac­ing Assn.

The Oak Tree meet­ing be­gins Thurs­day at Hollywood Park with a 7:05 p.m. post time, one of six days of night rac­ing dur­ing a 22-day pro­gram that ends on Oct. 31.

The high­light event should be on Satur­day, when un­beaten Zeny­atta races in the $250,000 Lady’s Se­cret Stakes in what is ex­pected to be her fi­nal race in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia be­fore she ends her ca­reer in the Breed­ers’ Cup Clas­sic on Nov. 6 in Ken­tucky. The 6-year-old mare has won all 18 of her races.

“That’s go­ing to be a great day,” Chilling­worth said. “Zeny­atta is a star.”

The Oak Tree meet­ing had been held since 1969 at Santa Anita, but lack of con­fi­dence among train­ers and own­ers in the Arcadia track’s syn­thetic sur­face left Oak Tree with no other op­tion than Hollywood Park.

Hollywood Park of­fi­cials were the ones who sug­gested try­ing night rac­ing dur­ing Oak Tree to im­prove on-track at­ten­dance, with the hope of at­tract­ing younger fans by hold­ing con­certs af­ter the races and sell­ing beer for $3 un­til 9 p.m. and hot dogs for $2. First up is the band Sugar Ray, to play af­ter Thurs­day’s races at ap­prox­i­mately 11p.m.

“Des­per­ate times bring des­per­ate mea­sures,” trainer Ron El­lis said.

It’s not an ideal sit­u­a­tion for horse­men, par­tic­u­larly on Oct. 21-22 and Oct. 28-29 when there will be con­sec­u­tive nights of races sched­uled. Train­ers, jock­eys, grooms and other track work­ers will be busy late into the night, then have to re­turn early the next morn­ing.

“We’ve got to do some­thing,” El­lis said. “The busi­ness is not on the up­swing and most peo­ple are for giv­ing it a try and help im­prove at­ten­dance.”

In July, Hollywood Park drew 10,029 for a Thurs­day night race card that ended with the band Devo mak­ing an ap­pear­ance.

Tra­di­tion­al­ists don’t like night rac­ing, but El­lis said, “Look at the Chicago Cubs. There was re­sis­tance they [fought] to hav­ing night games. But it works. You hate to lose tra­di­tion, but times change.”

Jockey Joe Talamo is ready to re­turn to ac­tion af­ter be­ing side­lined be­cause of a bro­ken wrist dur­ing the Del Mar meet­ing.

“There were so many real good horses I’ve lost. Hope­fully, I can get them back,” Talamo said.

An­other jockey in­jured at Del Mar, Tyler Baze, will miss the open­ing week of Oak Tree as he con­tin­ues his re­cov­ery from fa­cial in­juries, said his agent, Vic Stauf­fer.

Oak Tree will have 13 graded stakes, start­ing with Thurs­day’s Grade III $100,000 Sen. Ken Maddy Hand­i­cap at six fur­longs on the turf for older fil­lies and mares.

Satur­day’s rac­ing card, be­sides fea­tur­ing Zeny­atta in the Lady’s Se­cret Stakes, will in­clude three other Grade I races — the $250,000 Good­wood Stakes, the $250,000 Nor­folk Stakes and the $250,000 Yel­low Rib­bon Stakes. And on Sun­day, the Grade I $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes and the Grade I $250,000 Cle­ment L. Hirsch Turf Cham­pi­onship will take place.

Gen­eral ad­mis­sion is $8, $10 for the club­house and $20 for the turf club.

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