Hollywood Park Memories: Affirmed Wins Gold Cup, 1979

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1980 Hollywood Park media pin, the first media credential issued to Ray Paulick after he started covering horse racing. 1980 Hollywood Park media pin, the first media credential issued to Ray Paulick after he started covering horse racing.

As Hollywood Park enters the home stretch of its 75-year run in Southern California, Paulick Report publisher Ray Paulick and editor-in-chief Scott Jagow will share some personal memories of their experiences at the Inglewood oval known as the Track of Lakes and Flowers.

By Ray Paulick

Los Angeles and the surrounding environs were very appealing when I fled Chicago in the spring of 1979 after the worst winter in the city’s history: sub-zero temperatures and over 90 inches of snow in all. The Southern California weather was nice, but the racing was even better: Santa Anita Park and Hollywood Park were bustling with packed grandstands, full fields, outstanding horses and a trainer and jockey colony filled with Hall of Famers.

I whetted my appetite for horse racing at Hawthorne and Arlington Park in Illinois a couple years earlier, but it wasn’t until that summer of 1979 and a horse named Affirmed that changed the course of my life.

I had a comfortable job as an editor at the Field Newspaper Syndicate, which had moved from the Chicago Sun-Times building to Irvine in Orange County.  One of my responsibilities was to work on oddsmaker and gambler Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder’s thrice weekly syndicated column. So I started following the races more closely, and the weekend trips to the track became more frequent.

One of those trips was to Hollywood Park on June 24, 1979, to watch Affirmed run in the Hollywood Gold Cup, the track’s biggest event. A year earlier I’d seen the Harbor View Farm colorbearer race to an exciting Triple Crown sweep over arch-rival Alydar, but that was on television. Seeing the chestnut colt in the flesh was an entirely different experience.

His Gold Cup victory over a game Sirlad, covering the mile and a quarter in 1:58 2/5 under a staggering 132 pounds, still ranks as one of the greatest racing performances I’d ever seen.

I watched that race from the track’s apron as a fan who wanted to get involved in the sport. A year later, after my application for a media credential as Jimmy The Greek’s ghostwriter was approved, I watched my first race from the Hollywood Park press box and thought it was the most beautiful view in the world.

Recently, while going through some boxes of racing memorabilia I’ve collected over the years, I came across that 1980 media pin from Hollywood Park. There have been scores of media pins and credentials since, for Triple Crown races, Breeders’ Cup and festivals throughout the world. But no pin has more meaning to me than that first one at Hollywood Park in 1980.

Thanks to Affirmed and Hollywood Park for a lifetime of memories that followed.

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  • http://judgebork.wordpress.com Lou Baranello Former Steward

    Ray, I believe that was the last time a mile and a quarter race was ran in this country where the winner carried 132 pounds and did so in 1:58 2/5 . A truly classic performance!

  • Right then, Right now

    As great as that race was no Hollywood Gold Cup can compare with Native Diver’s 1967 win. At the ripe age of eight, and apparently over the hill, the Diver charged his way to the front from the start and repelled every challenge, including the final one from his nemesis, the odds-on favorite Pretense. There was not a dry eye in the house when he returned to the winner’s circle.

  • Ida Lee

    Yes indeed…thank you Affirmed for the memories…

  • ljk

    That 1979 Chicago winter was brutal. Large part of thr reason I now live in FL.

  • powaymojo

    And, who can forget the Sunset Hcp, run at 1-15/16 when the gate crew set the gate in the wrong place. Pretty fast time for 2 miles. (It was 2 miles in those days.)

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