The 1938 Hollywood Gold Cup
In the summer of 1938, Southern California was seeing something brand new. Less than four years after the opening of Santa Anita Park, the area welcomed another racetrack when Hollywood Park opened for business.
Formed by the Hollywood Turf Club, which consisted of entertainment figures like Jack and Harry Warner, Don Ameche, Bing Crosby, and a host of others, Hollywood Park was built in the city of Inglewood. It lived up to its name. Members of Tinseltown were involved in the operations of the venue as well as showing up to watch the races as fans and owners of Thoroughbreds.
Inevitably, a major race synonymous with Hollywood Park would be on the schedule, much like the Big 'Cap at Santa Anita. In the case of the former, the event to reach that status was the Hollywood Gold Cup, set for July 16. Run at 1 1/4 miles, it offered a purse of $50,000. Several horses, trainers, owners, and jockeys came to call to attempt to win the Gold Cup. In all, ten horses met on track for the honor to be its first champion: Specify, No Dice, and Star Shadow, all of whom came from Silver State Stable; the coupled entry of Indian Broom and Whichcee from A.C.T. Stock Farm; Grey Count; Ligaroti; Warfellow; Sahri II; and the biggest name in the field, Seabiscuit.
Going into the Gold Cup, Seabiscuit was enjoying a tremendous season. He had been first or second in every start so far in 1938, and had been no worse than third going back to the 1937 Santa Anita Handicap. For much of the previous two years, it could be said that the Biscuit was a completely different racehorse. He had won multiple races back east earlier in his career, but also had his share of off the board results. But that all changed when he moved into the barn of trainer "Silent" Tom Smith. Now owned by Charles S. Howard, Seabiscuit transformed into a more consistent racehorse. Third or better was now the norm, and he was winning stake after stake, with races like the San Juan Capistrano and Bay Meadows Handicaps among his triumphs. Sometimes it just takes one person to bring out the best in someone. Tom Smith did just that with Seabiscuit.
Just two weeks after winning the Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington Park, Seabiscuit was back home in California, ready to make his Hollywood Park debut. He received another opportunity to win at 1 1/4 miles, which was something he had not yet accomplished. Clearly in good form, many felt the Biscuit had a chance to win the race, the seventh one of the day. Making him the odds-on favorite, the fans wanted the son of Hard Tack to take the trophy while they waited for him to be victorious in the Big' Cap (which came in 1940). For Hollywood Park, having a horse like Seabiscuit brought attention to a track that had just opened its doors, and management knew that fans would come to watch the popular equine in the latest chapter of his story.
Indeed, those fans showed up. Tens of thousands were side by side in Hollywood Park's grandstand, watching to see who was going to emerge as the Gold Cup's first winner. Those that rooted for Seabiscuit saw him far back at first, well off the pace after a half-mile. But that was not new for the Biscuit; he had been several lengths behind before making a rally. The question was whether the rally would be successful.
Seabiscuit was intent on making it a race. With the legendary George "The Iceman" Woolf aboard, the little horse overtook his opponents, one by one. In the stretch, only Specify and Whichcee were ahead of him. A large opening formed between them, which Seabiscuit and Woolf used to their full advantage. Seabiscuit was ready to run, and run he did. He found more in the closing seconds of the Gold Cup, making quick work of the front two. Seabiscuit ran with determination, moving like a champion. Woolf urged him, and Seabiscuit obliged. Neither Specify or Whichcee had an answer for their rival. In fact, no one did.
Timed in 2:03 4/5 seconds, Seabiscuit won the inaugural Hollywood Gold Cup by 1 1/2 lengths, ensuring another place in racing history as he added to his legend and thrilled his immense fan base. The race turned out to be significant due to the fact that it represented Seabiscuit's lone start at Hollywood Park. He made the most of it, however, earning the distinction of being the first Gold Cup winner. He also finally won at 1 1/4 miles, and the Gold Cup certainly played a role in him repeating as Top Handicap Horse and winning Horse of the Year in 1938.
When one thinks of Hollywood, it is inevitable that stars will closely follow. In the case of Hollywood Park, it was a track filled with stars, but not just of the human variety.
Those who watched Seabiscuit in person on July 16, 1938, saw a star equine who gave people hope with his rags-to-riches tale during the Great Depression.
They also saw one of the greatest Thoroughbreds prove he was a champion once more.