A slow weekend of racing gets an added note of sadness as Hollywood Park closes forever after Sunday's program.
The site of the first-ever Breeders' Cup World Championships, just down the street from Los Angeles International Airport, will be redeveloped for other uses. California racing will redeploy in 2014, with expanded dates at surviving tracks and some stabling innovations.
Hollywood opened June 10, 1938, with the kind of glamor usually associated with Del Mar, which opened the previous year. The original shareholders included the likes of Hollywood heavies Walt Disney, Ronald Coleman, Joan Blondell, Bing Crosby, Darryl Zanuck, Sam Goldwyn and Wallace Beery. This, remember, was in the day when racing was a favorite sport of the social elite.
Seabiscuit won the first Hollywood Gold Cup that year and would be followed by subsequent "Horses of the Year" Challedon, Citation, Swaps, Round Table, Ack Ack, Affirmed, Ferdinand, Criminal Type, Cigar and Skip Away.
A banner year went into the books in 1980, with more than $5 million in average daily mutuel handle and 80,348 in attendance May 4 of that year, aided by a tote bag giveaway.
The roster of trainers, jockeys, "firsts," "records" and innovations associated with Hollywood Park is as impressive as it is long.
The grandstand burned in 1949 but Hollywood was rebuilt and reopened in 1950, with a 1972 renovation adding to its capacity and a 1991 makeover finalizing the track's last configuration.
The track went through several ownership changes, including a stint with Churchill Downs Inc.. It was sold in 2005 to Bay Meadows Land Co. for $260 million. Only the economic downturn after 2008 delayed the decision to redevelop the valuable land.
There are other underperforming tracks around the country that occupy choice real estate. The industry should take care that they continue to be valuable enough to corporate owners as race tracks that other uses do not doom them, as well.
But, as we sadly say goodbye to a track that provided many thrills, racing does continue. Here's the weekend's relatively meager offering:
Two-year-old fillies go Saturday in the $200,000 Soviet Problem Stakes, restricted to 2-year-old fillies bred or sired in California. Ten are set, including Swiss Lake Yodeler, winner of the Golden State Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita; and Sprouts, who won three straight before finding Grade I company tougher with an eighth-place showing in the Del Mar Debutante in her last start.
The closing-day feature is the $200,000 King Glorious Stakes for California-bred or sired 2-year-olds. Eleven signed on, including Aotearoa, coming off a second-place finish in the Grade III Generous Stakes; Better Bet, who won the Golden State Juvenile at Santa Anita; and Alpine Luck, who won the Hollywood Juvenile Championship in the summertime but has struggled since.
Sunday's final race is a $25,000 starter allowance that understandably drew a full field of 15 to try 1 1/16 miles on the turf.
The only graded stakes of the weekend is Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Dania Beach Stakes for 2-year-olds on the Gulfstream grass. A field of nine, with no strong favorite, is expected for the 1-mile test. Pleuven, a French-bred colt by Turtle Bay, is making his first U.S. start for trainer Chad Brown and is the 5-2 morning-line favorite off two summertime wins back home. He's out of a Singspiel mare and, history tells us, Singspiel won the Canadian International and the Japan Cup in 1996 among other significant accomplishments on the turf. Bon Accord finished third in the off-the-turf Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland, then fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Yes I'm Lucky has four wins, a second and a third from six starts and wins include the Tyro Stakes at Monmouth and the Laurel Futurity, both on the grass course. He was second to Dunkin Bend in the Grade III Sapling on the dirt at Monmouth. Also respect Here's Johnny, Mr. Speaker and Request.
Sunday's $100,000 Harlan's Holiday Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track got a salty group of 3- and 4-year-olds including River Seven, Sr. Quisqueyeno, Purple Egg, Csaba and Bourbon Courage.
Palace, the winner of three straight stakes, including the Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap in his last outing, is the favorite among six in Saturday's $100,000 Gravesend Handicap going 6 furlongs.
Pure Sensation, a Zensational colt who has been knocking on the door, is the favorite among six in for Saturday's $100,000 Don Rickles Stakes for 2-year-olds at 6 furlongs. Watch Extrasexyhippzster, for the name if nothing else. The Pennsylvania-bred colt is by Stroll, out of the Freud mare Extra Sexy Psychic.
On Sunday, Aqueduct presents the $100,000 East View Stakes for New York-foaled 2-year-old fillies. Miss Narcissist, already the winner of two stakes sprinting, will stretch out to the 1 mile, 70-yards distance. The race was scratched last Sunday by bad weather.
Also scratched that day was the $100,000 Damon Runyon for New York-bred 2-year-olds. That event was run Wednesday and won in dominating fashion by odds-on favorite Samraat, who led all the way and was 16 3/4 length in front of runner-up Forever Utopia. With Jose Ortiz up, Samraat ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:44.09, in hand. The Noble Causeway colt now is perfect in three starts.