12/20/2013 2:15PM

Hollywood Park: One final race before curtain falls

Barbara D. Livingston
Photo Credit Turf Club reservations are sold out, but there will be plenty of room in the stands closing day.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Way back in 1987, jockey Aaron Gryder was part of Hollywood Park history at the track’s autumn meeting.

He won the riding title that fall with 31 victories, the second apprentice jockey to lead the standings and the first to do so since 1941. Gryder’s title came in competition with riders such as Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay Jr., Chris McCarron, Eddie Delahoussaye, and Gary Stevens, to name a few.

“I won the Matriarch,” Gryder recalled on Thursday. “There were an amazing group of riders back then.”

Of that group, only Gryder and Stevens are still riding. Sunday, Gryder has another chance at Hollywood Park history. He can win the track’s final race, a starter allowance over 1 1/16 miles on turf. Gryder, 43, rides Soul Candy, the winner of the 2010 California Cup Classic.

After Sunday’s program, there will be no more live racing at Hollywood Park. The track is scheduled to be developed for residential and commercial uses in 2014. The grandstand will be torn down. Simulcasting will be moved to the adjacent casino.

Sunday’s 11th and final race, called the Auld Lang Syne, drew 15 entries, but will have only 12 starters. For Gryder and the other jockeys in the race, it will be a unique experience, with track hornblower Jay Cohen playing “Auld Lang Syne” and “Hooray For Hollywood” during the post parade, and fans snapping more pictures before and after the race than any starter allowance in recent memory.

“It will be a happy, sad day,” Gryder said.

Earlier this week, Gryder recalled the years he rode at Hollywood Park, particularly the early part of his career, which coincided with the track’s 50th anniversary in 1988.

“It was interesting to see the people that used to come out,” he said. “I remember when the stands were full and the excitement was there. The last time we got the crowds there was with Zenyatta.”

The 2010 Horse of the Year, Zenyatta was based at Hollywood Park through her career. She was undefeated at the track, drawing large crowds to watch the final races of her career, and her retirement ceremony in December 2010.

There will be no big ceremony to commemorate closing day. Track officials are taking a low-key approach to the final day of live racing.

The public is taking a more proactive approach. Track officials said last week that Turf Club reservations were sold out for closing day, but there is more than enough space in other sections for racegoers who want to spend an afternoon walking through the racetrack, or grab a seat in the massive grandstand and catch a few races.

Track president Jack Liebau said the attendance for Sunday is hard to predict.

“The Turf Club is filled,” Liebau said. “I don’t have any idea what will happen in the grandstand. If I had to guess and make an over-under, I’d say 8,000, but I could be off.”

The more people who attend, the more the day will remind usher Richard Warren of a bygone era. Warren, 86, started at Hollywood Park in 1948, shortly after he moved to California from New York. A year later, the track burned down, and it was rebuilt for the 1950 season.

Warren saw the track’s greatest days in the 1950s and 1960s, the opening of the turf course in 1967, the launch of exacta betting in 1971, the introduction of the pick six to California in 1980, the first Breeders’ Cup in 1984, and the start of Friday night racing in the early 1990s.

Warren also saw crowds dwindle after intertrack wagering was launched in 1987, allowing fans to watch and wager from venues such as Los Alamitos, Santa Anita, and county fairgrounds. The decline escalated after account wagering started in California in 2002, allowing bettors to wager via computers, phones, and now tablets. Those technological advances diminished the need to be at the races.

Warren has spent recent weeks reminiscing about the track’s history with customers, some of whom he has known for decades.

“Everyone is so used to coming here, it’s like a second home,” he said. “It’s not like coming to work. You know the people. You know the fathers, the sons, and the sons’ children.

“They all say the same thing – ‘I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. These people that own it, they’re not horse people. They’re developers.”

For Warren, racing goes on. He will be at Santa Anita for Thursday’s opening day, working as an usher. But in late April, he will not be leaving Santa Anita for the start of the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting.

“That’s when it will really hit,” he said.