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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Final Days of Hollywood Park


(originally written May 13, 2013. I've added updates)
 
Ever since Bay Meadows Land Co. bought Hollywood Park back in 2005, we knew that the track would be torn down someday.  With this week’s announcement, the last day of racing at Hollywood Park will be Dec 22, 2013.  This is the 75th and last year at the track since opening its doors in 1938.  The same fate happened to Bay Meadows race track in 2008 where the rubble laid there for a few years (and still may be).

A few things delayed the closure of Hollywood Park as there was a chance it would remain open if slots were to become available on-track, but that was shut down by the voters of California.  The real estate market also plunged with the recession that has happened the last few years, but has now started to pick up some steam.  The land will eventually be developed into condos, a retail district, a hotel and a park among other things while the casino will still remain.

California racing in 2014 should see quite a change.  There is a need for stalls for all the horses who usually stay at Hollywood Park year round.  There likely will be more racing dates at Santa Anita and Del Mar.  Also in the talks has been opening Fairplex Park or Los Alamitos.  Will those that worked at Hollywood Park now shift to the other tracks or will they just lose their jobs?

Stalls should be the first priority as all these horses now will need a place to live.  Fairplex may have some room, but most likely we will see training tracks such as San Luis Rey Downs to help fill the need.  Along with the horses, trainers and their help would need a place to work and live as well.

(Updated for 2014: Santa Anita will race from Dec 26 thru July 6.  Los Alamitos will race from July 10 thru July 20.  Del Mar takes their usual spot from July 16 thru Sept 3.  Fairplex will race from Sept 4 thru Sept 23.  Racing goes back to Santa Anita from Sept 25 thru Nov 2.  Del Mar will race from Nov 5 thru Dec 7.  Finally, Los Alamitos will race from Dec 11 thru Dec 21.)

It is no secret that California racing has declined in recent years.  Smaller fields, higher takeout and higher living costs have all had an effect on attendance and wagering.  Trainer John Shirreffs took his string of horses to Belmont Park as he said he could not see a better future in the short term for California.  It would not be a surprise to see a few others follow.

Now that a change has to be made for the survival of racing, maybe now the leaders of horse racing in California can help turn things around.  Sometimes it takes something drastic to happen to make something drastic happen and change is certainly needed.  Unfortunately, we will lose a track filled with lots of history.

For this blogger, I can remember attending the 1997 Breeders’ Cup at Hollywood Park, but nothing prior to that.  I do remember going to closing day on a December Monday in 2001 and it was a first look at greatness.  Azeri made her second career start in an Allowance race and I was in awe when she raced through the stretch.  I really thought she was going to be a top-class horse and she proved me right.

 Azeri 2nd start 001
Azeri in the Hollywood Park paddock Dec 17, 2001.

My last visit was in 2010 for Zenyatta’s final race before heading to Kentucky for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  There were 25,000 fans that day and she made it 19-for-19 as she thrilled the crowd once again.
 2010-10-02_16-17-27_952
Zenyatta at Hollywood Park in 2010 approaching the gate.

If you would like, share some of your Hollywood Park memories below.  For now, we will have a few more months of racing to enjoy and we’ll hold our breath hoping for a better future for California racing.

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