2013: Hollywood Park's Finale
The lights were on at Hollywood Park on the evening of December 22, 2013. Night racing was in progress, just as it had been so many times before. It was the eleventh race on the program, but this was not just any other race, and it was certainly not just any other program.
After the horses ran this 1 1/16 mile starter allowance race on the turf course, the finish would signal the end of closing day at Hollywood Park. Not just closing day for the autumn meeting, but closing day for the seventy-five year old track.
For some, the horses entering into the starting gate for the last time at the Track of the Lakes of Flowers was no doubt unthinkable. This was Hollywood Park, where the legends of Thoroughbred racing held court since it opened in 1938. Seabiscuit won the inaugural Hollywood Gold Cup there. Citation had become the first millionaire thanks to his Gold Cup triumph in 1951. Swaps delivered a campaign for the ages in 1956 when he set or equaled multiple records. Native Diver had become the first three-time winner of the Gold Cup, a feat duplicated by only Lava Man forty years later. J.O. Tobin delivered the most shocking moment in track history when he upset Seattle Slew in the 1977 Swaps Stakes. Zenyatta singlehandedly brought crowds to the track in its waning years that arrived just to see her in action.
Hollywood Park was where John Longden, Bill Shoemaker, Jerry Lambert, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Chris McCarron, and many other jockeys won scores of races. Pincay become the all-time leading jockey there just before the turn of the century, and McCarron went out a winner in his final career race in 2002. Trainers like William Molter, Laz Barrera, Ron McAnally, Mel and Warren Stute, and Charlie Whittingham all guided countless horses to the winner's circle. Hollywood Park was one of the most legendary tracks in Thoroughbred racing, and it was unfathomable that closing day had come.
For others, it could be said that it was inevitable. Once Churchill Downs sold Hollywood Park to land developers less than a decade earlier, the track's future had been in doubt. There was an attempt to bring in slot machines to the venue, which failed, and that seemed to indicate what many had feared: racing would at some point conclude at Hollywood Park.
The track received borrowed time, however. When the recession came in 2008, development plans were shelved, and racing continued at the Home of Champions for a few more years. That came to a stop in the spring of 2013, when the announcement came. Following the autumn meet, the track would close its doors.
During the spring/summer and autumn meets, there had been an uptick in attendance, likely from longtime fans who wanted to get in as many visits as they could and maybe from some new people who realized a landmark was leaving the area.
That was not lost on the fans who came for closing day. There was an official attendance number given, but going by television, the crowd seemed much larger. They knew an end of an era was approaching, and they were going to be part of it.
Twelve horses walked out onto the track for the post parade, and one of them would leave there with one of the most historical wins in Thoroughbred racing.
At 6:11 p.m., the gates opened and the crowd saluted Hollywood Park as the field began the last 1 1/16 miles of racing at the storied venue. Anythingscookin took control early and kept the lead through the clubhouse turn and on the backstretch. The field had become strung out as track announcer Vic Stauffer called the action while paying tribute to some of the legendary horses that had run at the Home of Champions throughout the decades. Anythingscookin maintained the lead through the backstretch and the far turn as the field began to bunch up. Insideondoutside started to make a race of it, challenging the pacesetter. On the outside was Depreciable, who was close to the top pair. No one knew who was going to win as those three reached the top of the stretch.
Stauffer continued to announce the race and then saluted Hollywood Park, the venue. The crowd became louder. Stauffer became louder. The horses were rapidly approaching the finish. With a sixteenth of a mile left, everyone saw that one of three horses would win: Depreciable, Danderek or Woodman's Luck. Depreciable led, with Danderek second, but Woodman's Luck found something extra in the last few seconds. He passed Danderek, and closed with a rush in an attempt to catch Depreciable. There was going to be one more thrilling finish at Hollywood Park, and everyone watched to see who would win.
With one last surge, Woodman's Luck caught up to Danderek, and the two hit the wire together as the crowd reacted at the finish. There would be a photo finish, and that only seemed fitting. It was like Hollywood Park was going to put off the inevitable as long as it could, go out on its own terms. That meant giving the fans and the sport one more memorable moment.
The result was confirmed. Woodman's Luck and Corey Nakatani got up in time to defeat Depreciable and Joe Talamo, and at the same time became part of Thoroughbred racing history. They were the winners of the last race at Hollywood Park, and Vladimir Cerin was the final trainer to get a victory there. The margin of victory: a nose.
As the track patrons filed out of the venue, they left knowing they had seen history in person that day. Each one had at least one story to tell to their friends and families.
The venue was shutting down, but the memories were not gone. Not the ones from closing day, not the ones from previous years. Even in the present day, those memories are still shared. None of them have gone.
In a sense, Hollywood Park is not gone, either. The track is no longer standing, but when one watches an old race from there, talks about a horse they saw race or a bet they cashed, the Track of the Lakes and Flowers is still alive.
It is easy to find videos of many races there. Fans, both longtime and new ones, can see the great Thoroughbreds and what they accomplished at the venue. Old track programs and memorabilia are for sale online. It has been mentioned in books (with one of them about its history).
There are also the stories and memories of those who were there over the years, and the totals of those are incalcuable.
Given all that is available about its history, Hollywood Park shall never leave the sport.