The 2013 Sunset Handicap

Since the beginning of Hollywood Park's existence, this race was a constant on the yearly schedule.

The list of winners boasted some of the greats of Thoroughbred racing, like Swaps, Gallant Man, Cougar II, and John Henry. For any horse or jockey that conquered it, they passed a test of stamina that ranged over the years from 1 1/8 to 2 miles.

Indeed, the Sunset Handicap was a showcase for distance runners, and was one of the most iconic races to be run at Hollywood Park in the track's seventy-five year history.

On July 14, 2013, the event was renewed once more, but with a sad tone accompanying it. After that day, there would be no more Sunset Handicaps at the Track of the Lakes and Flowers ever again.

By closing day of the spring/summer meet, everyone knew for weeks that Hollywood Park was shutting down the following December. The autumn meeting was still going to happen in November and December, but an end of an era was unfolding in front of the sport of Thoroughbred racing. The spring/summer meet, the one that started it all going back to the spring and summer of 1938, was finishing up for the final time.

When nightfall arrived, one more horse would be called champion of the Sunset Handicap, appropriately named since it was the traditional closing day feature.

A field of six comprised the 72nd running of the Grade III event, which was contested at 1 1/2 miles. Five horses were males: Dhaamer (the defending champion of the race), Extensive, Hawk's Eyes, Only the Gold, and Why Not Be Perfect. The final entrant was a mare named Marketing Mix, a multiple graded stakes winner who captured the Grade I Gamely Stakes at Hollywood Park earlier in the meet. People took notice of her class, and she was made the odds-on favorite to win.

When the gates opened, there was some brief jostling between Only the Gold, Extensive and Hawk's Eyes. Marketing Mix made the lead early, but went back to third as Only the Gold and Hawk's Eyes recovered to take first and second, respectively. Why Not Be Perfect then battled alongside Marketing Mix while Exentsive traveled just behind them, leaving Dhaamer to bring up the rear.

Making his first trip into the front straight, Hawk's Eyes was well in front. His five rivals were closely bunched behind them, and by the time they reached the clubhouse turn, Marketing Mix sailed up to join the leader. No more than a couple of lengths separated the field, and it was a long race. Everyone could afford to bide their time.

Hawk's Eyes took the lead right back around the turn, and put some distance between himself and Marketing Mix entering the backstretch. The favorite was not bothered; she calmly took back some of that advantage in the matter of a few seconds to be within a length of Hawk's Eyes. The remaining four horses were all well within striking distance as they moved down the straight. From the back, Extensive made an early move, getting up to fourth. Marketing Mix continued stalking Hawk's Eyes, getting alongside him in the far turn. The race was not moving quickly; almost every quarter-mile was being run somewhere between 24 and 26 seconds. The mile was done in 1:38 3/5.

Going around the turn, Marketing Mix unleashed her run. Without being asked, she moved right past Hawk's Eyes, who had Extensive coming quickly on his outside. Dhaamer's title defense was now underway, for both he and Julien Leparoux were in a drive to get to the front. At the top of the stretch, they powered their way around Hawk's Eyes and Extensive on the outside. Marketing Mix and Gary Stevens were all that separated them from the winner's circle.

The time for 1 1/4 miles appeared: 2:02 3/5. Another 24 second split. Marketing Mix was on the inside by a couple of lengths, but victory was not secured yet. Dhaamer continued on the outside, trying to gain on the favorite. The crowd began cheering the horses on, knowing the race was not over. Marketing Mix kept running on the inside. Dhaamer made up some ground just before they reached the sixteenth pole, raising the level of excitement at Hollywood Park. Marketing Mix was not faltering as she stayed in control, and that meant Dhaamer would finish no better than second.

With her second straight victory, and fifth in her last seven starts, Marketing Mix accomplished a rare feat in the Sunset Handicap. Typecast (1972) and Petite Ile (1990) were the only female horses to win the Sunset Handicap. Given it was the last time the race would be at Hollywood Park, it seemed apropos that the fans saw history made once more at the Home of Champions.

Gary Stevens, who wore the orange, black, and white colors of Glen Hill Farm, celebrated his third victory in the Sunset Handicap, while trainer Tom Proctor captured it for the first time. Truly, it was a memorable day for various reasons.

As the Golden State prepared for life without Hollywood Park, the question was where the track's stakes races would be placed. Santa Anita and Del Mar were going to divide up the majority of the events, and Los Alamitos would get some as well. When all was said and done, each venue picked up multiple stakes that were once staples in Inglewood throughout the year. But, there was one glaring omission.

That omission was the Sunset Handicap. For some reason, none of the tracks added it to their roster.

A mainstay in California racing since 1938, the race simply faded without fanfare after the summer of 2013. When Hollywood Park closed, the Sunset Handicap went with it.

Of course, there is always a possibility that the race will return. Whether that happens is unknown as of 2019. But, for those who have followed the circuit over the years, they remember seeing the Sunset Handicap every July for decades. For those who were at Hollywood Park on closing day in July 2013, they witnessed history as Marketing Mix became just the third female to win the event.

They also witnessed history as one of California's legendary races was contested for perhaps the final time.

Source: 2013 Hollywood Park Spring/Summer Media Guide, pgs.64-66.
Entry added July 8, 2019. AF