The 1984 Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park
Though Hollywood Park had long been the site of some of Thoroughbred racing's greatest moments, it had never staged anything quite like what happened on November 10, 1984.
That day marked the culmination of a long held goal, one that was the brainchild of John Gaines, the head of Gainesway Farm. Several years earlier, Gaines had a vision that entailed a showdown of horses facing off in one setting to decide year-end divisional honors. Older Horse, Older Mare, Turf Male and Female, and Horse of the Year. All the best horses and jockeys would converge on one track to settle the awards in front of thousands. World class racing would be the order of the day, and history was going to be made with it.
Gaines's vision became the Breeders' Cup, and Hollywood Park was selected as the track to play host to the inaugural event. It was a perfect union. Racing's elite meeting with the stars of Hollywood in Southern California, long a major region for Thoroughbred action with Hollywood Park and Santa Anita based there. The Breeders' Cup was going to be on television as well, giving Hollywood Park an audience in the millions.
On hand for the festivities were entertainment stars like Elizabeth Taylor, and their presence gave a callback to the track's early days when several Tinseltown figures banded together to form the Hollywood Turf Club and build the venerable racetrack. After its doors opened, they were in attendance as fans (and in some cases, horse owners). That was the case over forty years later, with racing and Hollywood still very much intertwined.
Racing fans knew the day was going to be special, and more than 60,000 came to Inglewood, California to be part of history. Those that were there in person would not forget what they saw at the Track of the Lakes and Flowers.
The Juvenile opened the program, with the field assigned to go a mile. The pace started quickly, with horses battling in the early stages. It ended with Chief's Crown and Don MacBeth rallying from off the pace to earn a hard fought victory. The win bred another win, for Chief's Crown was awarded top 2-Year-Old honors at the Eclipse Awards. Chief's Crown also gave the Laurin family another champion Trainer Roger was the son of Lucien, conditioner of the legendary Secretariat.
The program only became more exciting. The first longshot in Breeders' Cup history came in the very next race, the Juvenile Fillies. Initially, the local crowd saw one of their own be declared the unofficial winner when the California-bred Fran's Valentine crossed the wire first after a thrilling finish. But, she was subsquently disqualified and relegated to tehth place due to making contact with another entrant. That put Outstandingly in first, and with that result came a $22.80 win mutuel for a $2 ticket and the Eclipse Award for 2-Year-Old fillies. The win brought some Southern California ties with it; Outstandingly was the granddaughter of Round Table, who won many stakes locally and was arguably the finest turf horse to ever live.
In the Sprint, Eillo set fast fractions and narrowly held off a hard-charging Commemorate in a fantastic conclusion to the six furlong contest, netting him the Outstanding Sprinter prize for the year. Sadly, the trophy came posthumously after Eillo passed away a month after the Sprint due to colic. But Eillo made a place for himself in the history books with his brilliant win in the Sprint.
The Southern California contingent got into the win column in the fourth Breeders' Cup race. Royal Heroine was a familiar face at Hollywood Park, having won three graded stakes at the Inglewood venue. Staying a few lengths behind the leader in the Mile, Royal Heroine pounced in the stretch, emerging from the pack with a flourish to beat the boys with Southern California regular Fernando Toro aboard. It was not the first time Royal Heroine defeated males. She had done so in the Hollywood Derby a year earlier, and did it again in the Inglewood Handicap the previous spring. But this time was different. The Breeders' Cup possessed a completely different aura, and Royal Heroine was indeed the heroine of the moment. The win propelled her to yet another shining moment. Like other winners on the day, Royal Heroine eventually added the title of Eclipse Award winner to her list of accolades after she was voted Champion Grass Mare for 1984.
Following the Mile, the ladies took center stage again with the 1 1/4 mile Distaff. Again, the Southland was not disappointed. Princess Rooney and Lucky Lucky Lucky, the two most recent Kentucky Oaks champions, battled for much of the race, staying even with one another. But Princess Rooney was simply a better horse. She also knew Hollywood Park, having won the Grade I Vanity back in May along with placing in two other graded stakes. She dispatched Lucky Lucky Lucky in the stretch and thoroughly dominated her rivals by daylight, securing the season's Champion Older Female accolade in a sterling performance. That marked two wins in a row for the Southland, with the beautiful gray mare being trained by Neil Drysdale and ridden by the popular Eddie Delahoussaye.
Interestingly, the Distaff achieved the distinction of producing a pair of Eclipse winners. Life's Magic, the race's runner up, was no stranger to Hollywood Park or Santa Anita, having been on the board in several graded stakes between the two venues. Her showing in the Distaff confirmed her as the leader of the 3-year-old filly division, and that was verified with the Eclipse Award later on.
Another route awaited fans in the form of the Turf, which was set for 1 1/2 miles. That went to Lashkari, who chased a sensible pace while never being too far back. Bred in Great Britain, Lashkari won or placed in some group stakes overseas before arriving for the Breeders' Cup. It was yet another dramatic victory, with the bay colt getting up just in time to beat All Along. Lashkari also ended the parade of three consecutive favorites winning, delivering the biggest price of the day at odds of over 50-1.
Now it was time for the main event, the 1 1/4 mile Classic. Offering a $3 million purse, the Classic was open to horses at least 3 years of age. Slew o' Gold, the reigning champion 3-Year-Old, was part of a coupled entry with Mugatea. They were odds-on favorites to win it, and Slew o'Gold was looking to complete an undefeated campaign that saw him win four Grade I events to that point, including the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
He stayed well behind the leaders going into the first turn, he and Angel Cordero, Jr. letting the race unfold. Wild Again was in charge going down the backstretch as the Classic went by in :22 3/5 and :45 3/5. Local horse Precisionist was right there in the leading pack, his supporters hoping he could add another graded stakes win to an already fine year for him. But Slew o' Gold was ready to take over, moving adroitly around the far turn to slot into second and challenge Wild Again. They were by themselves turning for home, but Gate Dancer rallied from behind to get into third, his sights moving to those two. But Wild Again was not conceding, and neither was Slew o' Gold. They dug in as Gate Dancer inched closer while the enormous crowd voiced its excitement. With a sixteenth of a mile to go, Gate Dancer caught Slew o' Gold and Wild Again, setting up a tremendous climax to Breeders' Cup Day. All three battled on to the wire, not giving up until the race was over. A photo finish was in the works, and that is precisely what everyone saw.
It was close, but Wild Again hung on to get his nose in front of a valiant Wild Again, with Slew o' Gold right with them in third. But it was not over yet. A stewards inquiry was announced moments later. There was bumping up front in the waning moments of the Classic, and several minutes later, everyone was informed of the decision. Wild Again was the official winner, but Gate Dancer was disqualified for interference in the stretch and demoted from second to third, switching places with Slew o' Gold. To put one more exclamation point on the extravaganza, Wild Again delivered the upset at just over odds of 30-1.
Despite losing the Classic, which was his career finale, the day was not a total loss for Slew o' Gold. With his impressive body of work for the year, he was named Outstanding 3-Year-Old Male, becoming a champion after retirement.
John Gaines had to have been smiling that November day. He saw the Breeders' Cup as being a showdown to determine year-end champions, and the program lived up to his vision. Seven horses who competed on track went on to claim supremacy in their respective divisions, and a massive crowd saw all of them on track as they individually cemented their statuses.
It was a banner day for Thoroughbred racing, with millions seeing world class competition along with the beauty of the Thoroughbreds present. For Hollywood Park, one of the sport's grandest stadiums, it served as host for another historical moment, one of many that had come before it. Everyone watching, whether it was on television or in person, could take in the beauty of the Home of Champions and appreciate the uniqueness of the venue that hosted Seabiscuit, Citation, Swaps, Native Diver, Affirmed, Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, and a plethora of fellow legends.
And it was an afternoon to remember for the Southern California racing circuit. In addition to Royal Heroine and Princess Rooney getting into the winner's circle, several area staples finished in the money in different races.
-Tank's Prospect, who started his career at Hollywood Park and broke his maiden at Santa Anita, was second in the Juvenile.
-The Juvenile Fillies saw Darrel McHargue finish second aboard Dusty Heart and Chris McCarron pilot Fine Spirit to third.
-In addition to McCarron and Commemorate being second in the Sprint, Delahoussaye and longtime Southland-based Fighting Fit rallied for the show.
-Laffit Pincay, Jr. scored a pair of thirds with Southern California stakes winner Adored (Distaff) and Gate Dancer (Classic).
-Toro picked up another third in the Turf with Raami coming from off the pace.
It was probably apropos that a star-studded event like the Breeders' Cup came to Hollywood Park. Once more, both human and equine stars were on the grounds, taking part in one of the biggest days ever for racing. Every element came into play: the drama, the excitement, the pageantry, the wonder, it was all there. The electric feeling was palpable, and it stirred through everyone. It was all everyone could want in a day at the races. They saw glamour with movie stars, they saw the rush produced by Thoroughbred racing, and they saw elements of everyday life with hope, happiness, hard work, and the realization of dreams.
Following the first Breeders' Cup, the sequel came to Aqueduct in 1985, then back to California when Santa Anita was chosen for the first time. Gaines had no intention of having his idea be a one-time event, and it is still going strong well into the 21st century.As everyone has found in the ensuing years, the 1984 Breeders' Cup ultimately signaled the beginning of a new era for Thoroughbred racing.