I've never been a “collector,” but have accumulated a lot of stuff from racetrack giveaways over the years: T-shirts, caps, pins, bobbleheads, bags, mini-binoculars, beach towels, even a pair of socks. Nothing, however, is older than my vintage 1980 tote bag from Hollywood Park. For more 30 years, it's been my shoe-shine kit.
The late Marje Everett was running Hollywood Park in 1980, and she was going head-to-head with Santa Anita Park's marketing whiz Alan Balch to attract the biggest crowds in the thriving Southern California racing scene. On-track attendance of 40,000 to 50,000 on weekends was the norm. But on the first Saturday in May of 1980, Hollywood Park tried something relatively new, at least to horseracing: the giveaway.
Baseball impresario Bill Veeck brought giveaways to baseball decades earlier – nylon stockings for women, bats for kids, whatever he thought could put butts into seats.
On May 4, one day after after the filly Genuine Risk beat California-bred Rumbo in the Kentucky Derby, Hollywood Park held its first giveaway, a small tote bag, and it was heavily promoted in the local media. Swarms of people came out to the track to get something for free. Century Boulevard was turned into a virtual parking lot as 80,348 came through the turnstiles, setting an all-time Hollywood Park attendance mark.
I was one of those crazed people on hand and still have the tote bag to prove it. Everett and her staff tried other giveaways that summer – “The Bid and The Shoe” T-shirts when Bill Shoemaker rode Horse of the Year Spectacular Bid to one of his two Hollywood Park wins, binoculars, tube socks and even a beach towel commemorating the introduction of the Pick Six. None had quite the allure of that first tote bag day.
My last freebie from Hollywood Park was a Chris McCarron bobblehead on Hollywood Gold Cup Day in 2001. A crowd of 26,253 turned out, which, at the time, seemed kind sad and small. McCarron finished in the Gold Cup aboard a horse named Futural, but he was disqualified for interference in the stretch, prompting some who bet on the horse to threaten to throw the bobbleheads at the stewards or McCarron. They weren't very happy.
I suppose you could look back from the 6,493 who attended the final Hollywood Gold Cup in 2013 and yearn for the “good old days” of 20,000-plus on a big afternoon of racing at the Track of Lakes and Flowers.
How many fans will show up on Sunday for the 75-year-old facility's final day of racing before the wrecking ball turns the once-glamorous Hollywood Park into a pile of rubble?
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