Finish Line Approaches for Betfair Hollywood Park

The anticipated development of the Hollywood Park property by owner Hollywood Park Land Company has become a reality, so the Hollywood Park Racing Association will not apply to the California Horse Racing Board for 2014 race dates at Hollywood Park.

This means the 75th anniversary season will be the final year of live racing, training and stabling at the legendary facility. The current Spring/Summer meet continues through Sunday, July 14.

Racing will cease with the conclusion of the Autumn meet, which is scheduled to begin Thursday, November 7 and continue through Sunday, December 22. The stable area is expected to close by the end of the year.

The development of the property has been considered inevitable – barring meaningful changes in racing’s business model - since Hollywood Park Land Company purchased Hollywood Park from Churchill Downs in 2005.

At that time, the Land Company advised racing would continue at Hollywood Park for a minimum of three years and a concerted effort would be made during that period to try and revitalize the sport’s underlying business model.“

Ownership has been upfront from the beginning that the property would eventually be developed unless there were significant changes in the horse racing business,’’ said Betfair Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau. “Despite the Hollywood Park Land Company financially supporting two statewide initiatives with varying degrees of support from other segments of the racing industry, the attempts to upgrade the business model were not successful.

“From an economic point of view, the land now simply has a higher and better use, so, unfortunately, racing will not continue here once the 2013 Autumn meet is completed.’’

Liebau added further logistics regarding the pending closure will be worked out in the coming months.

From its opening in June, 1938 under the direction of motion picture moguls Jack and Harry Warner, Hollywood Park has been the home of unforgettable achievements from legendary performers – both human and equine – and innovations that continue to be important parts of the racing experience.

The fabled Seabiscuit captured the inaugural Hollywood Gold Cup 75 years ago, the first thoroughbred on a superstar-studded roster of winners that also includes  Noor, Citation, Swaps, Round Table, Ack Ack, Affirmed, Ferdinand, Cigar, Skip Away, females Happy Issue, Two Lea and Princessnesian and three-time winners Native Diver and Lava Man.

There is also the memory of what is arguably Hollywood Park’s most famous race – the conquering of undefeated Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew by J.O. Tobin in the 1977 Swaps Stakes.

Before a crowd of more than 68,000, Seattle Slew, three weeks removed from completing his Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont Stakes, finished – echoing the words of iconic track announcer Harry Henson - a well-beaten fourth.

The Grade I Swaps Stakes was created three years earlier to honor the greatest California bred in history. Owned by breeder Rex C. Ellsworth and trained by Mesh Tenney, Swaps was memorialized 55 years ago with a bronze statue that remains near the clubhouse entrance.

One of the most popular horses ever to race in the United States, John Henry did some of his best work in Inglewood. The Ole Bob Bowers gelding, who was trained by Ron McAnally for owners Dorothy and Sam Rubin, won six stakes at Hollywood Park, becoming the first horse to surpass $4 million in career earnings when he captured the 1983 Hollywood Turf Cup.

Another more recent fan favorite was Zenyatta. Stabled throughout her brilliant career at Hollywood Park, the 2010 Horse of the Year, who was adored by the racing public due to her come-from-behind running style and her personality, earned eight of her 19 victories at her home track, including an unprecedented three consecutive wins in the Grade I Vanity Handicap (2008-2010).

Many of the game’s greatest jockeys and trainers have added to their glowing resumes at Hollywood Park, including numerous Hall of Famers.

Laffit Pincay, Jr. and Bill Shoemaker are the runaway leaders in terms of wins among riders at Hollywood Park, having combined for 5,465 victories – 568 coming in stakes.

Other Hall of Famers who were once local regulars include Sandy Hawley, Chris McCarron, Eddie Delahoussaye, Gary Stevens, John Longden, Kent Desormeaux, Don Pierce and Milo Valenzuela.

Hall of Fame trainers Charlie Whittingham and Bobby Frankel combined to win over 1,800 races – 371 of them in stakes – at Hollywood Park.

The top 40 trainers – in terms of victories - in Hollywood Park history include a dozen others - McAnally, Tenney, Richard Mandella, Bob Baffert, Buster Millerick, Neil Drysdale, Bill Molter, D. Wayne Lukas, Jack Van Berg, Lazaro Barrera and Bob Wheeler – who are residents of the Hall of Fame.

The Breeders’ Cup became a reality at Hollywood Park in 1984 and returned twice more – in 1987 and 1997 - to the Track of the Lakes and Flowers.

Highlights include Wild Again’s shocking upset in the inaugural Classic after a very eventful stretch run, Ferdinand’s narrow win over Alysheba in the 1987 Classic and Skip Away’s dominance in the 1997 Classic.

The inventiveness fostered at Hollywood Park – under leadership provided by forward thinking executives such as James Stewart, Vernon O. Underwood, Mervyn LeRoy, Marjorie Everett and R.D. Hubbard – remains evident to this day.Some of the game’s fixtures that began at Hollywood Park include:

·         Sunday racing, which debuted in April, 1973

·         Giveaways to fans – topped by a tote bag promotion which drew a record 80,348 on May 4, 1980

·         The Pick Six – Underwood’s brainchild – and the $1 million guaranteed Pick Six pool, which became a reality in 1998 during Hubbard’s tenure.

Several other exotic wagers came to life at Hollywood Park, including Rolling Pick 3s, the Superfecta, the Place Pick All, the Pick 4 and the Players’ Pick 5, a reduced takeout wager which debuted at the beginning of the 2011 Spring/Summer meet.The Hollywood Land Company also spent more than $8 million to install Cushion Track nearly seven years ago. California’s first synthetic surface, which opened for training Sept. 13, 2006, is widely considered to be the state’s safest and fairest main track. “Our fans and all of the employees who have worked at Hollywood Park – both past and present – deserve our thanks and gratitude,’’ said Liebau. “They have been the backbone of this historic venue.’’


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