Goodbye, Hollywood Park

INGLEWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 21: Horses run along the backstretch during morning workouts at Betfair Hollywood Park on December 21, 2013 in Inglewood, California. - (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An 11-race card closes out the 75-year history of Hollywood Park on Sunday, December 22nd.

In 1984, Hollywood Park hosted the inaugural Breeders' Cup, a day of racing featuring seven championship level events topped by the Breeders' Cup Classic and its $3 million purse. Wild Again won the first Classic, with horses such as Lashkari (GB), Royal Heroine (IRE), Chief's Crown, and Princess Rooney among the winners in Inglewood. Pat Day and Eddie Delahoussaye were some of the winning riders, while Roger Laurin, Neil Drysdale and John Gosden picked up wins on the trainer side. 68,000 fans packed the Hollywood Park grandstand that day. I doubt few in attendance that day could imagine what would become of the track just 30 years later.

The '84 Breeders' Cup is just one of the many great events hosted by Hollywood Park over its 75-year history, events that will be just a memory after the final race on Sunday afternoon. The doors will shut for good after twelve horses aged three years old and up run a mile and a sixteenth on the turf in the 11th and final race on the card.

With the end of the road in plain sight, the Hollywood retrospectives have begun to pour out of the typewriters computers of writers around the country. Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times wrote an piece on Hollywood Park through the eyes of one of the track's long time employees. (Link: The long goodbye for Hollywood Park, through knowing eyes) Among the many wonderful quotes and observations throughout that piece, the description of what Hollywood Park used to be and what it (and many tracks around the country) have lost is perhaps the saddest part of the story.

It takes a little coaxing, but Warren's personal memory bank opens.

"I remember Fred Astaire, sitting in these boxes," he says. "Then, there'd be Lucy and Desi Arnaz and they'd be arguing about something and they'd be with Jimmy Durante and he'd be just sitting there, smoking a big cigar, and ignoring them."

Most of the greatest thoroughbreds in history ran at Hollywood Park, and Warren says, to him, one was the most impressive.

"I saw Citation in the post parade and I really remember it because he just stood out," Warren says. "I don't remember the year, or the race, or even if he won, but you looked at him and you knew he was special."

Other Hollywood Park retrospectives appearing on the scene the last few weeks included an excellent piece from Claire Novak at ESPN, and one from John Branch at The New York Times. Over at the Daily Racing Form, Jay Hovdey might have penned two perfect sentences to describe the loss of Hollywood Park:

As a building, Hollywood Park is nothing special. But as a place where the culture of Thoroughbred racing could be found, since 1938, Hollywood has been home sweet home, and with the loss and leveling of Hollywood Park, racing’s sense of place takes a terrible hit.

I suppose there will be a tendency to minimize the closing of one of the more historic and important tracks in North America since we can easily transfer the names of stakes and the racing dates to Del Mar, Santa Anita, Los Al, Fairplex, or which ever track decides to fill the summer/winter Hollywood void. Heck, Hollywood is the final resting place for three horses - Native Diver, Landaluce, and Great Communicator - all three of which will be relocated to other locations, according to an article at the San Diego Times-Union.

Of course, moving racing dates, names and memorials doesn't do much for the employees that lose their jobs, nor will the void ever be completely filled by other facilities. At least Pincay Drive will remain for the mall and condos in the property's future, but not much else. Part of our sport is gone for good after Hollywood closes on Sunday, regardless of what occurs in the future.

For me, the real danger is to pass off Hollywood's closure as a simply inevitable event or a result of a run-down facility that wasn't worth saving in light of economic realities. That's a danger to our sport because a similar argument could be made against practically every single race track in a major metropolitan area on the continent. As I've written before, could not the same arguments be leveled at Pimlico? Aqueduct? Hawthorne? Calder? Heck, anybody think Santa Anita and Del Mar wouldn't bring in loads of more money if they were developed into condos? (If you've ever been to Del Mar, you know the answer to that question. Beach front property used for horses to run in circles?)

The sport horse racing will go on after Hollywood closes on Sunday and in most parts of the country nothing will immediately change for the worse or the better in relation to our industry. But the closing of a major racing facility in this country is more than a small slice in the proverbial 'death by a thousand paper cuts' that the sport has struggled with over the last 10 to 20 years.

With a heavy heart, let's take a look at the final card on the final day of racing at Hollywood Park.

Race 1

Maiden Special Weights on the lawn? Let's get this going.

The final days of a meet are always interesting from a race schedule perspective since the consensus seems to be, "hell, we don't have to treat the grass course like a set of fine china - let's run turf races like they are going out of style!"

Hollywood carded five turf events for Sunday; I was hoping for 11 on the green.

3-Wicked Finance (5/2) came up a neck short in his turf debut last time out but he's developing a bit of seconditis early in his career (6-0-3-0). I can't get behind that at a short price.

This being a maiden race for older horses, there's not a ton of feel-good options; you sort of have to accept some warts if you want to get away from the either of the two favorites. I'm leaning towards the third choice on the morning line, 7-Maxx the Giant (7/2), despite the fact that he's 0-for-14 in his career. (That's a major wart.) On the good side, I think he's got the speed to clear this field early and speed horses have won almost 40% of the turf races at this distance during the meet. I like that since I have to like something!

Race 2

$16,000 Claimers, non-winners of two lifetime. Yeah, buddy!

Speed has held very well this meet in six furlong races on the main track, which leads me towards 5-Woodlandsway (3/1) in this spot. She's never run on plastic here in North America but she won over the "standard" track at Wolverhampton in England last year. In her last race at Golden Gate she showed speed early when running against $40,000 Starter Allowance company; she's getting a bit of a class break in this spot and could control this one if she's ready to go at the break.

Race 3

I'm not sure why 2-Brickintheacademy (15/1) is running in a race on the lawn when he's clearly a better horse on the main track. His synthetic form is excellent, or at least non-atrocious. His dirt/turf form is not non-atrocious.

3-Romantic Wish (10/1) comes into this race after winning her last start... at odds of 100/1.

5-Prettypriceygirl (8/1) hasn't done a whole lot of winning lately but she's faced some pretty decent fields and should find this group a bit easier than her last four races. She fits against $25k horses and she should be available at a decent price.

Race 4

"Fire sale in stall 3!"

3-Boss of Me (2/1) is 0-for-8 as he heads into this $20k Maiden Claimer, but he ran last time out against open company $50k claimers and finished a decent sixth. He's taking a major price cut and is probably racing against the weakest field in his career... by far. I don't know, there's just something that about a fire sale horse racing at the bottom level of his career at short odds that gives me pause. He's the most likely winner but he won't get my money. Of course, I don't think anything in this field is going to get my money.

Race 5

$8,000 Claimers in the fifth race but at least this is open company with some actual form to analyze.

1-Mia Isabel (4/1) really intrigues me in this race as she's spent most of her career running on the lawn but her last synthetic effort came in an off-the-turf $40k claimer at Hollywood last year which she won. Even though turf claiming prices and main track claiming prices don't necessarily correlate 1-to-1, this race is no where near as tough of a race as that one. On the troubling side, Mia Isabel is shortening up to 6 1/2 furlongs for the first time. Hmmm.

Despite the fact that the distance is probably not her best, I think the class edge and the presence of some early speed might set this filly up for a big effort.

Race 6

Another $20k maiden event and not a whole lot caught my eye on the form. I like the fact that 12-U R My Candy Girl (20/1) is shortening back up to a sprint after a couple of brutally bad efforts at two turns. Perhaps she's worth a flyer in a field full of 'meh'.

Race 7

Turf sprint. Unless they recently built a hill to run this race down this is an easy decision: pass, pass, pass

Race 8

Some nice first time starters in this field of juvenile fillies going six furlongs on the main track. 8-Koukla (3/1) draws widest of the group for her debut for John Sadler and she's trained nicely in the weeks leading up to this race. Sadler usually has his first timers ready to go (20.6% the last three years) and with juveniles (22.9% winners).

Race 9

Since getting a little rest after the Del Mar meet, 7-Wings of Mojave (5/1) seems to have found his best form over his last two races. He finally broke through with a maiden victory last time out in a race that saw the runner-up come back to win next time out. Jumping up to N1X company is a challenge but trainer Vann Belvoir does will with maiden winners next time out and I love the fact that this gelding seems to be able to run well from either close up or far back. 5/1 on the morning line wouldn't be bad, as well.

Race 10

The penultimate race on the card is the ungraded King Glorious Stakes featuring a field of 11 Cal-bred juveniles going seven panels on the main track. 9-Aotearoa (5/2), a good second in the G3-Generous Stakes last time out, the morning line favorite.

Aotearoa ran in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf in early November but finished over eight lengths back of the winner. I'm not sure seven furlongs on the synthetic is really the best conditions for this gelding but he certainly possesses the class to to beat this field.

I really like 11-Life Is a Joy (8/1) in this spot on the route-to-sprint angle and the drop into the state-bred ranks. You can probably draw a line through his last try against Cal-breds after he stumbled at the start and spotted the field six and a half lengths at the gate. His last race wasn't pretty but he should be able to improve off that effort against softer company and at a decent price.

Race 11

I'm happy that the final race in the 75-year history of Hollywood Park isn't a low-level maiden claimer cause that would be brutal. Instead we get a full field of $25k starter allowance horses going a mile and a sixteenth on the turf course and what looks to be a tough but good betting race.

AE14-Buenos Dias (10/1), needs to draw into this race and he needs to win it just so Buenos Dias can be the last name on the list of winning horses at Hollywood Park.

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