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Trainers Say Goodbye to Hollywood Park

So many faces in and out of my life

Some will last

Some will just be now and then

Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes

I'm afraid it's time for goodbye again

Say goodbye to Hollywood

Say goodbye my baby

Say goodbye to Hollywood

Say goodbye my baby

--Billy Joel “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”


Long before trainer Bob Baffert was inducted into the Hall of Fame, an impromptu trip to Hollywood Park left an indelible impression on the Nogales, Arizona native.

After a brief stint as a quarter horse rider in 1970, he and a friend traveled to California and spent a day at the Inglewood track.

“I remember visiting Hollywood Park for the first time in 1971 or 1972,” recalled Baffert.  “We were able to get a couple of passes left for us. The place was really packed.  and the parking lot was so full, we had to park really far away.

“The thing I remember most was getting up close to the winner’s circle and seeing Cary Grant.  That was a thrill.”

Baffert began his rise to the top with a string of quarter horses at Los Alamitos in 1983.  He made a big splash when Gold Coast Express won the Champion of Champions, but few people remember the 1986 World Champion also raced at Hollywood Park.

In the mid-1980s and early 1990’s, Hollywood Park was part of a quarter horse circuit that included Bay Meadows and Los Alamitos.  The mixed-breed meets also featured Appaloosas. 

It is also seldom recalled that New Mexico’s Ruidoso Downs was for a period time (1947-1953) was named Hollywood Park.

“The Gold Coast Express era was a lot of fun,” recalled Baffert.  He won a big race at Hollywood Park and I remember watching the race in the (then recently-built) Pavilion (of the Stars) where the new finish line was after they reconfigured the track.”

Two of his fondest memories of Betfair Hollywood Park had nothing to do with his training.

“I’m a big fan of the game,” declared Baffert.  “When Pincay was going for the record, it was exciting.”

Baffert was referring to Dec. 10, 1999, when Hall of Fame rider Laffit, Pincay, Jr. rode Irish Nip to victory for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, breaking the legendary Bill Shoemaker’s record of 8,833.

Counted among her legion of followers, Baffert was a fan of Zenyatta, the 2010 Horse of the Year, whose home base was Betfair Hollywood Park.

“When you think of Hollywood Park, you have to think Zenyatta,” said Baffert.  “Every time she ran, it was something special.  The fans really got into it.”

Baffert’s list of personal achievements are too numerous to mention, but an immediate thought that popped into his head was Game On Dude’s victory in the 2012 Hollywood Gold Cup.

“It was a real feel-good story when Chantal (Sutherland-Kruse) became the first woman to win the race,” he said.

It’s easy to pick out trainer Ron Ellis’ two major accomplishments at Betfair Hollywood Park—victories with Declan’s Moon in the 2004 Hollywood Futurity and Rail Trip in the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup—but neither tops his personal list

“I met my wife, Amy, here in 1987,” said the 57-year-old Ellis.  “I saw her in the betting line and asked her if she wanted to split an exacta.  Luckily, it won and we split another one after that.”

The two were married in 1988 and have three daughters—Elizabeth, Laura and Christine.

Saying goodbye, why is it sad?

Makes us remember the good times we've had

Much more to say, foolish to try

It's time for saying goodbye

--Jim Henson’s The Muppets ‘Saying Goodbye”

John Sadler owns numerous training titles, but has no hesitation picking out Melair’s victory in the 1986 Silver Screen Handicap as a career milestone.

“She beat (Preakness winner) Snow Chief by 11 lengths that day and her time (1:32 4/5) was the fastest ever by a 3-year-old filly,” Sadler proudly said.

In fact, at the time only three horses, including the great Dr. Fager, had run faster.

The Silver Screen turned out to be Melair’s final appearance.  She retired undefeated in five starts.

Turn out the lights the party's over

They say that all good things must end

 -Willie Nelson “Party’s Over”

Perhaps Neil Drysdale summed up the closing of Betfair Hollywood Park best.

When asked of his fondest memories of the track, the Hall of Fame trainer and former assistant to Charlie Whittingham, a Hall of Famer and the all-time leader at Hollywood Park with 222 stakes wins, responded: “There were thousands of them.  That’s a silly question.”




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