12/22/2013 11:40PM

Hollywood Park: Nakatani wins track's final race

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Benoit & Associates
Woodmans Luck and jockey Corey Nakatani head to the winner’s circle after the last race in the history of Betfair Hollywood Park on Sunday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Jockey Corey Nakatani was greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd when he rode Woodmans Luck into the winner’s circle after the last race in the history of Betfair Hollywood Park on Sunday evening.

But the veteran rider was not in a festive mood. He barely smiled while Woodmans Luck fidgeted before standing still for the photo.

For Nakatani, winning the last race at the 75-year-old venue was no cause for celebration. He went through the motions over the following 10 minutes while signing autographs, posing for pictures, and conducting interviews with television crews. The smiles were brief, occurring when he saw old friends and acquaintances.

“It’s sad,” he said minutes later in the jockeys’ room. “It’s hard to say. It’s been a great place to be. To see it go, it’s hard.”

Hollywood Park, which in 1984 hosted the first Breeders' Cup, is scheduled to be demolished for commercial and real-estate development in 2014. The racing dates once held by Hollywood Park will be transferred to Del Mar, Los Alamitos, and Santa Anita next year.

All that will remain of Hollywood Park is memories.

Sunday, the track announced a meet-high attendance of 13,283, small in comparison to major stakes days at Del Mar and Santa Anita, but the highest here since 25,837 attended the Oct. 2, 2010 program when Zenyatta extended her unbeaten streak to 19 races with a win in the Lady’s Secret Stakes. The track stopped charging admission in early afternoon, making it difficult to determine actual attendance.

Nakatani won Sunday’s 11th race by a nose on Woodmans Luck, closing from off the pace to catch Depreciable, who led by 1 1/2 lengths with a furlong remaining. Woodmans Luck, who paid $13.60, races for owners David and Holly Wilson and trainer Vladimir Cerin. Together, the owners and trainer won such famous races at Hollywood Park as the 2000 Hollywood Gold Cup with Early Pioneer and the 2004 Shoemaker Mile with Designed for Luck.

On Sunday, the Wilsons arrived early to walk around the grounds and soak in the final day.

“We came early and walked around the downstairs and the backstretch to drink it all in one more time,” David Wilson said in the winner’s circle. “It’s bittersweet to win the last race.”

Wilson, who owns a chain of car dealerships, said he is optimistic that a change in the Southern California racing landscape will lead to growth for the sport.

“Hopefully, this is a wake-up call for all of racing,” he said. “Sometimes, things have to fall apart for things to come together.”

Sunday’s program had a big-day feel. The Turf Club was at capacity and bustling with activity. By midafternoon, the box-seat area was full, and sections of the grandstand unused for years were occupied.

Track President Jack Liebau said the track ran out of programs by 2 p.m. and that concession items were sold out by midafternoon in some locations. “We ran out of everything,” he said.

Lines for bets and concessions were 10 to 15 deep in some places, much longer than on any other recent day.

“There are 100,000 people that have never been here, and they’re using up the tellers,” said Mel Brooks, the famous director and actor.

Brooks, seated with friends in the Turf Club, has been a fixture in the front row of the Turf Club in recent years. He said he will not be as frequent of a guest at Santa Anita.

“He will,” said his friend, Darryl Richard. “Right now, he’s sore. It’s closing, and this is near where he lives.”

Trainer Steve Knapp had his final winner at the track with Tribal Yodeler ($88.80) on Saturday. Knapp, who turned 57 last Wednesday, began running horses at Hollywood Park in the late 1990s but has a history with the track dating back to the 1960s.

“I’ve been coming here since I was 6 or 7,” he said. “I saw J. O. Tobin beat Seattle Slew [in the 1977 Swaps Stakes]. It’s a nice track, and I’ll miss it. I really liked the barn area.”

Liebau said the track finished the 27-day autumn meeting with a gain of “2 or 3” percent in average all-sources handle. He said further business data would be available in the coming days.

Rafael Bejarano led all riders with 37 wins, three more than Joe Talamo. Bejarano had four winners on Sunday’s 11-race program.

Bob Baffert won the trainers’ title with 16 wins, one more than John Sadler.