07/11/2009 11:10AM

All That Glitters

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I will be attending the Hollywood Gold Cup today with a heavy heart, laced with sadness, anger and guilt. Sadness because we have been led to believe that this could be the last Hollywood Gold Cup. Anger because nothing has been done to prevent that from happening. And guilt because, as a journalist, there always will be a nagging itch that something could have been written at some point to have kept Hollywood Park from being leveled and the site rebuilt with office space, shops and high density housing. Journalists are burdened with that kind of ego.

In fact, Hollywood Park has been on the skids as a class act since 1983, when former track boss Marje Everett was handed the first Breeders' Cup and proceeded to remake the place in an image that had nothing to do with the stylish, L.A.-cool sporting venue the track had represented since 1938. Everett and her enablers expanded the racecourse to 1 1/8 miles in time for that first Cup, in November of 1984 (razing a perfectly good horse sales pavilion in the process), and tacked onto the sleek, art-moderne grandstand a grotesque, box-like structure with a vast, cold interior, wrapped in a metallic finish that had the look of a cheap, sharkskin suit. (If this aesthetic process sounds familiar, Frank Stronach pulled a page from the Everett playbook with his reimagining of Gulfstream Park.) With a straight face, Everett then named the ugly new building for her pal, Cary Grant, the most elegant movie star who ever lived, as if wishing could make it so.

By the time Everett was ousted in a palace coup, she had disowned the new building (it had been nicknamed Grant's Tomb for all the use it got). R.D. Hubbard, the new boss, figured out exactly what it was good for and turned it into a casino, then hung onto it as a reliable money-maker when he sold the rest of the racetrack to Churchill Downs, Inc. CDI flipped the property a few years later, selling it to a development group whose intentions, if not transparent, were at least strongly telegraphed. At the time, the Bay Meadows Land Company was already in the process of replacing Bay Meadows racetrack with office space, shops and high density housing.

As a kid growing up in Southern California, Hollywood Park ranked right alongside the L.A. Coliseum and Chavez Ravine as guaranteed entertainment. I watched Native Diver win his first of three Hollywood Gold Cups in 1965, standing with my dad at about the sixteenth pole as this black thing whizzed past, feebly pursued by Hill Rise, my hero, and defending champ Colorado King. When through some miracle I actually began working at the track, I would mourn for anyone who was not in the house the day Bill Shoemaker and Kennedy Road beat Don Piece and Quack by a nose (this was after Shoe was booted from Cougar by owner Mary Jones), or the day Crystal Water, as good a horse ever bred in California, hung it on champion mare Cascapedia and the snarling Caucasus, or that day, 30 years ago, when Affirmed and Laffit Pincay were dogged on the lead every step of the way by Italian champion Sirlad before finally edging away.

Affirmed  Nice try Sirlad. A real nice try.

"I still have people come up to me and talk about that race," said Darrel McHargue, who rode Sirlad. "I was one of the best memories of my career, one of those times when your up against a great horse, and you're on a horse who definitely let him know he was in a race."

McHargue became a steward in California after his retirement from the saddle, which has its own ironic twist. There have been two Gold Cup winners disqualified for interference, and McHargue rode one of them, Caterman, in 1981. But more about Sirlad, who was trained by Charlie Whittingham.

"It was interesting what Charlie said after the race," McHargue continued. "He said, 'We should have gone a little faster the first part of it. Might have softened him up at the end.' I looked at the board. The three-quarter fraction was 1:09 and change." It was 1:09 3/5, to be exact, after a :45 3/5 half, with Affirmed carrying 132 pounds and Sirlad laying on him from the outside. "I was scratching my head," McHargue added. "Faster? But the kind of horses Charlie was used to dealing with, he figured they could do that sort of thing."

Such recollections will help today. At some point, I plan to park my heavy heart and spend a few moments admiring the Native Diver Memorial in the walking ring, along with the statue of Swaps at the clubhouse entrance, and finally the 13 runners in the 70th running of the Hollywood Gold Cup. If they are the last 13, and there is no 71st, here's hoping they do something worth remembering.

Bulk SMS More than 1 year ago
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Vince LaRocco More than 1 year ago
I, like you, miss those golden summers when Hollywood Park was truly the "Track of the Lakes and Flowers". I remember hanging around the winner's circle to get a glimpse of Greer Garson or Burt and Angie, checking out the Goose Girl and waiting for Native Diver to win his next Gold Cup. Alas, those days are gone. Maybe advancing age has this effect on everyone as nostalgia becomes the day's buzzword. I don't know. I just feel as if the racing I loved in my youth will never be revisited.
Jay in Seattle More than 1 year ago
Gee whiz folks! What a dark bunch of commenters! I am a huge fan of Hollywood and So Cal Thoroughbred racing. I will particularly miss Vic Stauffer's announcing. I hope they give him a partial gig at S. Anita or Del Mar. I hope his hospitalization is not related from the stress of this. But folks, thoroughbred racing will live on! I look forward to a less watered down national thoroughbred marketplace for handicappers where we can expect 10 to 12 horse fields to be the norm again. Santa Anita and Fairplex and Del Mar can pick up the slack.
Nick Briglia More than 1 year ago
As long as they are racing on fake tracks you might as well close them all down....
Dave More than 1 year ago
I mourn the greatest racetrack .H.P. I had the honor to work there in the 90's. Great memories I'll always have, of the backside.
prozacjack More than 1 year ago
Dear Jay, In 1988 I wrote a letter to Marge Everett,telling her that her management team has CONSPIRED against her, because no ONE person is capable of making as many MISTAKES with Hollywood Park as you have. Mrs Everett personally called my house and told me , that she was spending a lot of time fighting to keep her leadership, something she was unable to do, and SHE adsorbed ALL the blame.Please remember it was Hollywood Park that brought us the Pick-6 and Sunday racing, while the "stuff shirts" over at Santa Anita would only follow, if it worked at Hollywood Park. I grew up in those grandstands, and I cried like a baby when Native Diver died. One of the best things at Hollywood Park, was the Legendary Track announcer Harry Henson, he in my professional opinion was the BEST that ever lived, today these guys sound like they are calling a FASHION show. Harry would RAISE your blood pressure to the limit. In 1992 I sent a letter to R.D. Hubbard, the man that was successful at ousting Marge. Much to my surprise he INVITED me over to see him. I told him all the mistakes this track was making, and he REALLY listened. I told him the big difference between me and a college boy, that has a chart and graft, is the fact I grew up in those grandstands and I'm connected to "the players" Something that management NEVER understood. I asked him to change the start of the pick-6, it used to start in the second race, I said let a player hit at least the double BEFORE you ask him to invest in your Pick-6, he said, that sounds like a good idea and ordered the change on the spot, and I will NEVER forget him saying to me "Jack I will try anything once". This is the KIND of leadership that is MISSING at the vast majority of today's racetracks, the spoon-fed Blue bloods are in charge and they don't give a DAMN about the little guy. I suggested many times INSTEAD of giving away a bunch of "cheap gifts" subsidize the food cost, a father shouldn't have to pay $3.50 for a lousy ice-cream cone for his kids. Las Vegas was BORN out of a 99 cent prime rib dinner, but NO WAY racetracks just have to "gouge" the hell out of a customer that they think will NEVER return. Weak leadership is the ROOT cause of Horse Racing's continued DECLINE.Out of touch management, that doesn't UNDERSTAND that the MAJORITY of the people are there TRYING their best to WIN or make MONEY,if a working stiff can make a couple EXTRA bucks over the weekend, that FELLOW will be there EVERY weekend. Management believes people are there to "cheerfully lose"I grew up in a horse racing neighborhood, all of my fathers friends played the horses, and I can tell you this, NOBODY in OUR neighborhood had MONEY to "cheerfully lose" Tracks across the country are closing down Because of out of touch management that "couldn't promote a bowel movement with a TRUCK load of BRAN muffins, and the BIGGEST mistake of all was GROSSLY underestimating the intelligence of it's audience. Many things have changed in the past 40 years and NONE of them any good for the "man in the grandstands" All Race tracks should have an OPEN DOOR POLICY like R.D. Hubbard did and this game would be THRIVING...But they just don't care and it shows. LOL
Qev More than 1 year ago
Speaking of “nostalgia” if the CHRB—California (I secretly) Hate Racing Bureau—would allow that track to return to a “traditional” dirt surface thereby giving it a “left coast” monopoly on “the good stuff” (not to mention a monopoly on common sense) then, there is no doubt in my mind that Hollywood Park would boom again with both horses and handle.
Field of One More than 1 year ago
I hope Tossed Salad is right. May there be more Gold Cups to follow!
frank molfetta More than 1 year ago
i believe this is only the tip of the iceberg.Unless racing begins to offer a customer friendly game with casino style perks horse racing will be reduced to all but a few upper tier racetracks.Why in the world can't racing operate its tracks with a casino type mentality of customer service and customer friendly facilities?If purses need to be cut so be it.Their may then be fewer horses necessitating fewer races which would be a good thing for an already watered down product.no more owners running bad horses in 5 horse fields and collecting a slice of the purse.
Etch More than 1 year ago
The next article that influences positive change in Thoroughbred racing will be the first. Coverage is populated by the fantasy-laden, the knee-jerk idealists, and the ostriches. The sport and its administration is populated by undetected criminals and selfish fools. It's a miracle that its decision-makers know how to put one foot in front of the other.