The 2013 King Glorious Stakes
Nightime had fallen on the city of Inglewood, California as the tenth race at Hollywood Park was set to begin on December 22, 2013. And in less than an hour's time, the track itself would have nothing but dark days going forward. After seventy-five years as part of the racing landscape, the Track of the Lakes and Flowers was going out of business following the eleventh and final race on the card.
The penultimate race of the day, the seven furlong King Glorious Stakes on the main track, would go down in history as the final stakes to be contested at the legendary oval. Make no mistake, this was a historic, but extremely sad, occasion.
Named for multiple stakes winner and California-bred King Glorious, who went undefeated in three starts at Hollywood Park, the race initially drew a field of eleven horses, but ten entered the starting gate following the withdrawal of Mass Transit. Of everyone competing, the bettors liked a chestnut horse named California Chrome, who had won the Graduation Stakes at Del Mar the previous July. The eventual dual classic winner took the most action at around 2-1, but the Leonard Powell-trained Aotearoa, who was coming off a second in Hollywood Park's Grade III Generous Stakes a couple of weeks earlier, was given a look at just over 5-2.
The remaining principals were Pray Hard, who broke his maiden at Hollypark on the Generous Stakes undercard, and Life Is a Joy, winner of Fresno's Charlie Palmer Futurity in October. They were listed at just under 3-1 and 5-1, respectively.
Completing the field were Alpine Luck, Better Bet, Convoy, Ghost of Harrenhal, Smoove It, and Tizouttasight.
After the final horse was loaded into the gate, a brief moment passed. It was as if the gravity of the occasion had settled in, for this was a moment many had hoped would never come.
Half the field battled for control early on, with California Chrome, Convoy, Life Is a Joy, Pray Hard, and Smoove It all in a line. That line was soon reduced to three with Pray Hard leading the way. It was a narrow lead, however, with Smoove it right there with him along the rail and Convoy stalking him on the outside. California Chrome came next in fourth, trailing Convoy by about a length on the outside with Victor Espinoza aboard. They were followed by a second pack of horses headed by Better Bet, and several lengths behind that group was Aotearoa.
Just after Pray Hard led the everyone into the far turn, the second pack rapidly dissolved and the King Glorious field suddenly became strung out. The first quarter mile flashed for all to see: 22.53 seconds. Pray Hard began inching away from immediate pursuers, but California Chrome was having none of it. He sailed past Convoy and Smoove it with amazing ease to draw even with Pray Hard as the top of the stretch neared.
The next fraction presented itself: 45.75. Pray Hard still had the lead at that split, but it was quickly seized by California Chrome. After straightening into the final stretch, the son of Lucky Pulpit accelerated from his opponent, opening up a huge lead under a hand ride from Espinoza. Running like an odds-on favorite, California Chrome had no peer in the final furlong, romping home by over six lengths to take the King Glorious in a final time of 1:22.12. Life Is a Joy got up for second in the last few jumps, edging out Pray Hard at the wire by a half-length.
It can be said that Hollywood Park played a special role in California Chrome's career. He debuted at the Home of Champions the previous April, finishing second before getting his diploma next time out in the middle of May. In four starts at the venue, the chestnut won twice, finished second once, and came in fifth once, the latter result coming in the Willard L. Proctor Memorial Stakes. But winning the King Glorious was more than just a victory or collecting a trophy. It became California Chrome's launching pad for taking the sport by storm.
Following the King Glorious, Chrome would go undefeated in his Kentucky Derby prep races, winning the California Cup Derby, Grade II San Felipe Stakes and Grade I Santa Anita Derby before capturing the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. In all, Chrome would put together a six race winning streak before his run in the Belmont Stakes, and it all began at Hollywood Park that winter.
California Chrome's win had to have been special for his trainer, Art Sherman. A longtime trainer in the state, Sherman had also been a jockey. And in his youth, he served as an exercise rider for none other than Swaps, who made Hollywood Park his domain in the mid-1950s. Comparisons between Chrome and Swaps, a fellow Cal-bred, sprang up throughout the former's three-year-old season, especially because Swaps won the Kentucky Derby in 1955. Sherman would find himself in the position Mesh Tenney, the trainer of Swaps, was in almost fifty years before. Winning at Hollywood Park one more time had to have been bittersweet for Sherman, given his years in California racing, but at the same time, he deserved to win on the final night the track hosted live racing.
It seems like no horse but California Chrome could have won that race. He was the best horse in the field, to be sure, but consider this point: Hollywood Park was a California track. And a California-bred horse who had the word "California" as part of his name won the last stakes race at that very venue. Combine that with the fact that same race was named for a California-bred, and it makes the win seem so surreal.
Looking back on that night on Prairie Avenue, it seems like destiny that the result played out like it did.