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The Closing of Hollywood Park: A Call to Action

Teddy's Promise 615 X 400
Photo: Andrew Champagne

 

When one enters Betfair Hollywood Park, as I did for the first, last, and only time Sunday afternoon, one of the first things seen is the outside of the grandstand, where monuments to past Hollywood Gold Cup winners and their connections hang as tributes to some of the best thoroughbreds to ever run in Inglewood.

Lava Man, one of the great stories in recent racing history, won three consecutive Gold Cups from 2006 to 2008, but you wouldn't know it by quickly looking at his signs at Hollywood Park. The signs brandishing his name and silks are obstructed by a black substance, and instead of educating new fans about a California legend, those signs act as the biggest example of the cruel fate that's befallen Hollywood Park.

Hollywood Park should be a cathedral of American horse racing. Most great horses of the past 75 years that spent any time in California ran in Inglewood at one time or another, from Seabiscuit and Citation to recent Gold Cup winners like Lava Man and Game On Dude. The first-ever Breeders' Cup was held there in 1984, followed by subsequent renewals in 1987 and 1997. Even this year, the track saw the emotional return of Paynter and two romps by Shared Belief, who may wind up winning the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old male.

Instead, once the doors close after racing this coming Sunday, Hollywood Park will meet the bulldozer. Many saw this coming after the track was sold to a land development company several years ago. The land will, naturally, be redeveloped into something more lucrative, because apparently Southern California doesn't have enough shopping malls and hotels.

The effects of Hollywood Park's closure are far-reaching. Long-serving employees are out of jobs, and the horses stabled in Inglewood will need to be moved elsewhere by the end of January. Los Alamitos has built stable space for 500 thoroughbreds as part of an admirable effort to expand its facilities, but who's to say that's going to be enough?

Furthermore, what happens to horses that have done their best running over Hollywood Park's cushion track? It's a unique surface, one that's not replicated by the main tracks at Santa Anita, Del Mar, or Los Alamitos. If those horses don't have breeding value and can't replicate their Hollywood Park form elsewhere, I shudder to think what their futures hold.

The pursuit of the almighty dollar has dealt several blows to racing of late. Hollywood Park will be the second Golden State track to close in six years, joining Bay Meadows, which closed its doors in 2008. Meanwhile, back east where I grew up, NYRA is dealing with blowback from the rollout of its increase in admission prices, which was even more flawed than the price increase itself.

Our game is under attack. For too long, horse racing has been its own worst enemy, with victories few and far between and defeats coming from all angles in many shapes and sizes. In tearing down Hollywood Park and raising admission prices at Belmont and Saratoga, those in charge of building this great game are giving people reasons to stay away from the track. As fans of horse racing, we have a collective responsibility to push for what's best for the game, and to push those in charge to make sound decisions in that regard.

Maybe Hollywood Park has aged in a not-so-graceful fashion, as evidenced by the small crowd on a beautiful Sunday afternoon this past weekend. The crowd consisted less of families (though there were some) and more of hardened bettors crushing cigarettes inside the building and yelling at small, outdated TV's showing races from Golden Gate and Woodbine. There was ample space by the paddock to watch the horses parade and be saddled, and when I snapped a picture of multiple stakes-winner Teddy's Promise, who proceeded to record her sixth win in 12 starts on the cushion track moments later, mine became one of just a few cell phone cameras I saw between my arrival and my departure.

Still, Hollywood Park deserved a much better ending, as did the people who devoted years of service to its horses, trainers, and patrons. Instead, it's getting torn down after 75 years of high-quality racing. That track and this game both deserved better, and it's up to us to make sure that it doesn't become a trend.

 

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Older Comments about The Closing of Hollywood Park: A Call to Action...

Match races: saw three of them there: one great (convneince over Typecast), one crappy (Chris Everett over Miss Muskett) and very interesting (QH chariwiri all over the fasterst t-bred on the grounds, Indulto)...last one was over after the break and Bobby Frankle had shipped in the Q-horse!
Heard that "unique" perspective a generation ago, still true depending upon the definition of *soon*.
Spoke to one of the standardbred stewards about this problem and he had a unique perspective; "this generation simply had no assocaition to the horse or anything rural to compare to." The lure of the horse is rapidly disappearing and without any public relations, the entire sport, ours and the thoroughbred, will soon be doomed.
The sport and tracks need to be unified, need better PR, Horses need to stick around until 5 or 6, and we could use a triple crown winner. Those are all grand things that arent likely to happen soon. So then we need to try short term fixes like trying to get more people to the park, here in NE the people need to urge the game commission to give the casino the suffolk and not wynn.
there is NO P.R. How are you gogin to attract people to a complicated game when all they hear are articles about drugged animals?
nice article, although it should not be our (the fans) responsibility but it is -- in Chicago racing is a mess at the two tracks that once heralded the racing superstars and crowded Saturday attendence -- I hope with sites like HRN the wave of fan opinion can get struggling tracks on the right road
Is the LA Turf Club going to continue the major stakes like the Underwood, Californian, Shemaker and Gold Cup I wonder
we have what are called Heritage Buildings here that let expressions of the culture remain so that hot shot contractors don't constantly destroy the skyline for their short term profits
I would like to see these places put on the national registry of historic places, so they might have a chance to be revived later on like Hialeah Park, sort of.
Sorry but as long as the casino mentaility rules the front office, race tracks will continue just to used to get casino gambling in the door and then let racing die. Like the US Congress, they should FIRE ALL OF THE CURRENT MANGEMENT and get some rational, open minded HORSEMEN in their place.
50,000 people. Does anybody not work in California during the daytime.If it were not for outlets like TVG and off track betting sites. This game would of died a long time ago. Even on Weekends, does nobody have family or responsibilities that they must tend to,rather tan waste 5 hours at the track to bet 9 races. These guys have saved the game,by allowing people to bet and take care of their personal lives.
  • vegasjim1952 · Big crowds were common on the weekends and the whole family would attend. I now can tell you have never been to the morning workouts just to see the horses go thru the daily routines. Going to the races is never a waste of time! · 562 days ago
HP, sadly will the first of others that despite a storied past, will close. There needs to a total rethinking of winter racing in NY as it harms the racing cards of many tracks by not having enough horses to promote top wagering. Horse racing has to do some major rethinking of policies etc. in order to combat this decline. This problem has to do with harness racing and quarter horse racing as we'll. and it is not confined to our shires. I have read many articles in the London Times about racing issues in England and the continent. England and Europe are attempting to get ahead of the issues. But American racing seems to going about in a daze about the issues. Perhaps HP's demise will be a true wake up call, after all to paraphrase Samuel Johnson: "Nothing focuses the mind, like a hanging in the mornin."
Greed keeps growing because the pie is shrinking and there is not enough pieces for everyone so the race is on to be the last man standing. When you have a drastically shrinking foal crop less than half what it used to be, you are not going to fill cards to promote enough wagering dollars to give a track enough revenue to survive. Hence the turn to slots revenues which have proven a Faustian bargain at best.
TVG has killed the on track crowds in Southern California. There would have been 50,000 plus in the days before stay at home and bet the races. Only the true horse player knows there is nothing like being there LIVE.
Calling for action won't help when greed keeps growing.
I don't know how any of those Florida meetings can survive with the destructive interference savage business principles that are extant.
Oaklwan, the best managed, and for its size, the most attended. meeting in North America
Joe. Out of your list, Keeneland is the one doing the best. Good crowds, large fields, top wagering. Churchill had to lower purses because the wagering and attendance wasn't what they thought it would be for fall. Gulf Stream is in a head to head with Calder over simulcasting fees etc. and clearly Calder is losing. However, Hialeah with its new and expanded casino and it's desire to once again hold TB meets will roil the waters more. Belmont is antiquated as is Aqueduct and needs major work to accommodate the ever smaller crowds. Saratoga had lower attendance etc. this last season. Too long cards and increased prices are going to drastically hurt them and the rest of NY racing. As Tom says NY racing is not in good shape. Too many years of mismanagement by the NYRA and totally indifference or outright hatred from elected officials could doom all of racing there. The casino expansion could cause more problems for racing in NY. But no you are completely wrong Joe if you think most of those tracks are fine.
great article about the larger problem in race promotin itself http://www.laweekly.com/2013-12-12/news/hollywood-park-horse-racing/3/
It breaks my heart... This is even more depressing than watching Seattle Slew loose the Swaps in '77. That made a 10 year old boy cry. This last goodbye makes a 46 year old man just shake his head on wonder why it has to be this way.

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