1938: Hollywood Park's First Race
Just under a year after Del Mar opened to the public in the summer of 1937, Southern California racing's latest boom period was puncutated with another major event in Los Angeles County.
Less than thirty miles from the Arcadia track, which had long since wrapped racing for the season, racegoers entered the Southland's newest track on June 10, 1938: Hollywood Park.
Operated by the Hollywood Turf Club, Hollywood Park was located in Inglewood. But depsite not being in Tinseltown, the track still had a lot of Hollywood in it. The Hollywood Turf Club consisted of many entertainment figures of the era with Ralph Bellamy, Joan Blondell, Bing Crosby, Irene Dunne, Samuel Goldwyn, Mervyn LeRoy, and Darryl Zanuck among its members. Jack Warner of Warner Bros. Studios served as chairman of the organization.
Through their combined efforts, Hollywood Park came to fruition, offering late spring and early summer racing before everyone made the trek south to Del Mar. And plenty of fans were enthusiastic about the brand new venue.A crowd of 40,000 was reportedly on hand for the big day. As it was at Santa Anita and Del Mar, celebrities were around for opening day. Gracie Allen, George Burns, Eddie Cantor, Claudette Colbert, Broderick Crawford, Dolores Del Rio, Carl Laemmle, Pat O'Brien and Jack Warner took in the atmosphere. They were part of the throng of people that witnessed the first eight races in Hollywood Park's illustrious history.
The day was anchored by the Premiere Handicap, a fitting name given the entertainment factor involved with the new endeavor. The winner of that feature race was Air Chute, the post-time favorite who beat seven foes while going six furlongs.
But before that came the first race, a five furlong contest for maidens and winners of one race. Unlike the Premiere, the opener had a whopping twelve starters, all of them two-year-old fillies. Of that dozen, bettors liked Valley Lass the most. At just below 7-5, she was the solid first choice over rivals Mad Sue, Princess Nane, Kenty Miss and others.
With legendary track announcer Joe Hernandez calling the action, Valley Lass wasted no time in justifying the dollars wagered on her. Starting from post five, she orchastrated the tempo as Hollywood Park's first field ran around the oval. She did not move that quickly, setting splits of :23 1/5 and :47 3/5 as she headed a strung out field. Behind her were Goole, Kenty Miss, Princess Nane, and several others, but none of them could top Valley Lass on track.
When all was said and done, Valley Lass waltzed her way to the wire in 1:00 1/5, earning the title of Hollywood Park's first winner as Kenty Miss, Miss Taos and Princess Nane completed the top four. Mad Sue, Goole, Los Traneos, Carmarlita, Kovno, Waralii, Sweet Jasmine and Bodmin followed them to the finish. Though they were all off the board, each one of those horses took part in something special that afternoon.
And Valley Lass made the moment more special since she was a California-bred, giving the state some pride as the racing day got started.
Adding to that pride was the pride of racing fans and the Hollywood Turf Club, for they were all linked to a banner day in the sport they loved.
Just as the track's song indicated years later, they were off and running at Hollywood Park.
Members of Hollywood Turf Club. Betfair Hollywood Park 2012 Media Guide, pg. 6.
40,000 on track: Lowry, Paul. "Inaugural Lures 40,000. Air Chute Captures Opening Turf Feature at Hollywood Park." Los Angeles Times, June 11, 1938.
Gracie Allen, George Burns and others attend opening day: Kendall, Read. "Film Stars Attend Races: Hollywood Turns Out En Masse for Opening of New Turf Club." Los Angeles Times, June 11, 1938.