The 1981 Hollywood Futurity
The early 1980s represented an eventful period in Hollywood Park's storied history. In 1980, the track established its all-time attendance record that summer with over 80,000 showing up on the day tote bags were being offered.
Several Thoroughbred stars took turns wowing crowds during the spring and summer throughout that era as well. Spectacular Bid followed up his undefeated Santa Anita season with first place efforts in the Grade II Mervyn LeRoy Handicap and Grade I Californian Stakes en route to Handicap and Horse of the Year honors.
In 1982, the outstanding filly Landaluce turned the Track of the Lakes and Flowers into her personal playground, winning her maiden with a strong effort before her legendary twenty-two length triumph in the Hollywood Lassie.
The towering John Henry scored a litany of graded stakes wins back then, including the American Handicap on Independence Day 1983.
And in 1984, Hollywood Park added the title of Breeders' Cup host to its list of accolades when the inaugural event came to the Southland.
But what about 1981? You might be asking why that year has not been mentioned.
1981 was indeed a big year for Hollywood Park. For that was when the track added autumn racing to its schedule for the first time.
One of the top races of the meet, and certainly the biggest for two-year-olds, was the Hollywood Futurity. A mile and one-sixteenth race with a purse exceeding $700,000, this new addition to the calendar instantly became an attraction for two reasons. First, the money alone would lure owners and trainers to bring their horses over in the hopes of snagging a victory. And second, given how the race would be contested late in the year, winning it could be a deciding factor in a horse possibly being named the Eclipse Award winner for the juvenile division.
At any rate, winning the Hollywood Futurity would be a momentum builder for the coming year, and the potential payday was undeniably enticing.
For the very first iteration of the new event, twelve horses entered the starting gate on November 29, 1981.Among its contestants were Hollywood Prevue champion Sepulveda; Laser Light, who flew in to California after winning the Grade I Remsen Stakes two weeks before; Stalwart, winner of Santa Anita's Grade I Norfolk Stakes; Cassaleria, who returned from a trip to Bay Meadows that produced victory in the Grade II El Camino Real Stakes; Header Card, who won the Grade I Oak Leaf Stakes and finished second in the Hollywood Starlet (the big race for fillies that started the same year); and Gato Del Sol, the Grade I Del Mar Futurity champion who also finished third in the Norfolk and second in the Hollywood Prevue.
Naturally, the substantial purse lured a huge field to the race, and one of the dozen horses in the field would soon be remembered as the Hollywood Futurity's first champion.
Header Card initially got the lead from the rail at the start, but Bill Shoemaker and Sepulveda soon took over. Header Card and Desert Envoy got in the early mix, and behind them were Racing is Fun, Stalwart, Maggie's Best, Cassaleria, Bunnell, Gato Del Sol, Exclusive One, Laser Light, and B Rich George.
Sepulveda controlled the tempo for a while, and Stalwart joined in with Header Card and Desert Envoy still in the top four. None of them had caught Sepulveda after three-quarters of a mile, but would he win?
Stalwart had other ideas.
Sepulveda gave up the lead in the stretch as Stalwart and Chris McCarron grabbed the top spot, followed by Cassaleria. They went in that order the rest of the way, with Stalwart taking the inaugural Hollywood Futurity for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Header Card took third, giving herself a unique double by becoming the first horse to finish in the top three in both the Starlet and Futurity, and Bunnell came from the back to nab fourth.
As it turned out, one horse in the field that day would later score the biggest victory of all. Gato Del Sol finished seventh in the Futurity, but he would have his big moment a few months later when he captured the Kentucky Derby. After just one running, the Hollywood Futurity could already call itself a stop for a Triple Crown race winner. And it would not be the last time that happened, either.
Through the years, several horses have gone on to win or do well in the spring classics after taking the Hollywood Futurity. Others have won spring classics and become divisional champions, including Snow Chief (1986), A.P. Indy (1992), Real Quiet (1998), and Point Given (2001). Of that quartet, A.P. Indy and Point Given also emerged as Horse of the Year.
Although the Hollywood Futurity was in time renamed the CashCall Futurity and is now the Los Alamitos Futurity, the prestige has not diminished over the four decades the race has been contested. Several good horses have used it as part of their pathway to fame and glory, and you will find more than one also used it on their way to becoming a legend.
The Hollywood Futurity has been a part of many stories, but at the same time it can be called one epic story. And it all began in the autumn of 1981.