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Jay Hovdey: Hollywood Oaks, rich with history, ends its run
It has been awhile since the rest of the country has taken particular notice regarding what happens in the Hollywood Oaks. For the most part, the race has been reduced to an early summer placeholder for what’s left of the West Coast filly division once the wild rites of spring fade away, which is pretty sad for an event that has been won by Miz Clementine, Straight Deal, Turkish Trousers, Fran’s Valentine, Hidden Light, and Lakeway.
Twenty years ago, Hollywood Wildcat, to that point without a major stakes win to her name, made her first start for Neil Drysdale and Eddie Delahoussaye in the Hollywood Oaks. The result was a 1 3/4-length victory at odds of 16-1. By the end of the year, she had beaten reigning champ Paseana in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Distaff to earn an Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old filly.
Thirty years ago, Burt Bacharach brought high hopes to the Hollywood Oaks with his Rock Talk filly Heartlight No. One, named for his hit song “Heartlight,” which actually did top Billboard’s Adult Contemporary category at No. 1 in late 1982, as sung by Neil Diamond. Making her stakes debut in the 1983 Oaks, Heartlight No. One won by 12 lengths, then later added the Del Mar Oaks and the Ruffian to be champion of the division.
Forty years ago, the Hollywood Oaks went to Sandy Blue, bred in California, trained by Ireland’s Tommy Doyle and ridden by Oklahoma’s Don Pierce. A gorgeous chestnut in a great year for chestnuts (see “Big Red”), Sandy Blue was an all-around pro, versatile enough that season to also win the six-furlong Goose Girl, the seven-furlong Railbird, and the nine-furlong Del Mar Oaks on grass.
Fifty years ago, Rex Ellsworth won the Hollywood Oaks with Delhi Maid, just like he did 60 years ago with Fleet Khal and twice in between with Candy Dish (1956) and Midnight Date (1958). In case you were wondering if they were all related, they were. Midnight Date and Candy Dish were full sisters, and all four were by Ellsworth’s stallion Khaled. Candy Dish went on to produce Preakness Stakes winner Candy Spots.
Even in recent years, as the Oaks descended in distance, purse and graded rating, good winners continued to pop up. House of Fortune, the winner in 2004, already had won the Fantasy at Oaklawn. Hystericalady, who won the local Oaks in 2006, scored major wins at Churchill Downs, Delaware and Oaklawn. Tough Tiz’s Sis, the winner in 2007, later won New York’s Ruffian by a pole. Switch, who beat champion Blind Luck in the 2010 Oaks, went on to win $1.4 million and hit the board in three straight Breeders’ Cup tests.
Matters not. On Saturday, the Hollywood Oaks will be run for the 68th and final time, with its field of five topped by Railbird Stakes winner Iotapa and the Jerry Hollendorfer tandem of Doinghardtimeagain and Ciao Bella Luna.
Unbridled Wee, a daughter of Holy Bull, comes into the race off a maiden win at the mile and one-sixteenth Oaks distance, while Ondine, never worse than second, gets her chance in a stakes for Bob Baffert, who is keeping the proven heavy hitters Fiftyshadesofhay, winner of the Black-Eyed Susan, and Midnight Lucky, winner of the Acorn Stakes, on the bench.
The elephant who’s not in the Hollywood Oaks room is Beholder, champion of the division, winner this year of the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks, and a heartbreaking second in the Kentucky Oaks in her last start, when she was caught in the shadow of the Churchill Downs wire by the 38-1 longshot Princess of Sylmar.
It wasn’t quite as simple as that. Beholder, always on the engine, had her hands full through the first half-mile that day chasing in hot pursuit of Midnight Lucky through a half in 46.79 seconds. Beholder also was spotting her opposition a considerable edge in composure, having spooked at something behind the starting gate before the race and pulling away from the pony rider with such force that she actually squatted on the track, dumping Garrett Gomez in the process. Up in the crowded stands, Richard Mandella looked on in horror.
“She is excitable and has an odd way of reacting to some things,” Mandella said Thursday morning. “We saw the obstacles coming, just going to Kentucky for the Oaks, with a crowd almost like Derby Day. And we overcame it all but for that one moment, but it scared the hell out of me.”
Even in defeat Beholder left town with a legion of new fans. For her trouble, she got a brief vacation.
“She was okay physically, but she’d been through a lot,” Mandella said. “I turned her out for awhile to forget it all, and hope she forgot it. I sent her out to Julie Adair, who freshens up horses like this for me. She turns them out in a big round pen and rides them a little bit. I think she’ll be fine.”
While Beholder isn’t missing much by skipping the Hollywood Oaks, she’ll need to get her act together in time for serious races in the late summer and fall.
“I’m actually going to breeze her a little bit for the first time in the morning,” Mandella added. “Then some time during Del Mar I’ll figure out when to start her back again, with the Breeders’ Cup as the goal.”
Well, it's small consolation, but if we have to write the HP obit, Jay is the one to do it. Jay, I went on Google Images, and I was shocked to see that it took a while until Julie's photos cropped (pun intended) up. Why not dig more up and post them there?
Wonderful is any tale that includes Hollywood Wildcat. Didn't have her in the Hollywood Oaks, but she sure caught my attention and I never missed her again in that summer blending into fall of 1993, that seems so close and yet so far. Sound the trumpets, lower the flag, say a prayer. For all of us.
Great to hear the historic stories of great races, great tracks, etc. Too bad this will never be recreated. Casino gambling along with the greed of many individuals in horse racing has been killing the sport for years. Now it's on life support. Hollywood park is just the start of things, there will be more casualties to come. What a shame.
If she s all that ship her to Saratoga for the Biggest race of them all for 3 year old fillies . The Alabama. Or is the 1 1/4 too far ?
The rope, rode Well Away, who bolted at 1/8 pole leading, Ellsworth had an entry Midnite Date, would of been 30-1 byself, paid $9 ? Other half taken out by mishap. I'm starting to write high lites of Hollywood Park history, am as old as track 1938 Made 1st bet in 1950 on Assault 8th & final race of day back then, figured he won triple crown, should be worth $2 bet to win,,won $3.40,,,,,will never refer to a betfair !
Now that's how you manage a modern racehorse -- pick your spots. Great job Mandella!
Some good history notes, I remember an Oaks, Susan's Girl was upset by a Whittingham charge Pallisima, circa late 60-70's, that I had pay $7 chg, guy told me it wasn't a real Oaks, Susan 127-112 lb diff, Guess it was a hdcp back then.......Margi Foley: .......... ..........they ran 'em all in '49 at SA.......lets hope so......but couldn't say Hollywood have to run 'em as not graded, overnighters, like most have become,....Dmr Gold Cup
Lest we forget to honor the memory of the late Jockey Jack Westrope, who lost his life in the 1958 or '59 Hollywood Oaks. I was fortunate to have him take me under his wing and teach me as a young teenager how to get inside a horses mind.
Hat's off to Mandella by doing so
Hollywood Park was a major force in American racing for many years. Swaps, Seattle Slew, Citation and many other great horses raced at HP, but apparently this racetrack's mark in racing history doesn't matter to morons trying to be clever, and failing, with cynical comments. It's the last time around for this historic racetrack, and I hope Jay will continue to commemorate its passing with articles on the horses and people who contributed to Hollywood Park's prominent place in American racing.