It's over. The long, sad goodbye finally has come. Betfair Hollywood Park ran its last race ever Sunday evening after 75 years of showcasing the best the sport has to offer.
The Inglewood, Calif., track, destined for development for the last eight years, was alive like it hadn't been in a long time. A crowd of 13,283 paid their way in and thousands more came in for free after the track stopped charging admission following the fourth race. Fans, young and old, cheered as the starting gates opened for the final time and a field of 12 charged down the infield chute and onto the main turf oval for the last of 11 races.
If they were able to hear track announcer Vic Stauffer on the public address system, they would have learned about some of the all-time greats who stabled at Hollywood Park as he called that last race.
The field made its way around the far turn, “for the final time past the lakes and flowers,” Stauffer said. “They straighten away, 1938 to 2013. A final eighth of a mile – 75 years down to 12 seconds.”
Depreciable was the hunch bet in the Auld Lang Syne race for those who felt betrayed by the accountants and bean counters when Churchill Downs Inc. sold Hollywood Park to a land development company in 2005. Joe Talamo, aboard Depreciable, opened up down the stretch on what looked like an insurmountable advantage for the Jeff Mullins-trained gelding.
But along came Corey Nakatani on Woodmans Luck, a horse who'd lost 17 straight, his last victory coming in October 2010. Somehow, the 5-year-old California-bred gelding closed just like Zenyatta did in the 2010 Vanity Handicap, when she snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the final strides to beat St Trinians.
Well, it wasn't quite like Zenyatta in the Vanity – “Stamp this day in your minds and your hearts,” Stauffer said that glorious afternoon when Jerry and Ann Moss's champion mare registered her 17th consecutive victory without a defeat.
So, it wasn't Zenyatta; it was Woodmans Luck with a 1-for-23 record – but it was historical just the same.
The two horses hit the wire together. Woodmans Luck was closing fastest on the outside, but Depreciable looked to have his head down at the right time.
“A photo finish in the final race,” Stauffer called. “It comes down to a camera close-up. Seventy-five great years at Hollywood Park. That's a wrap.”
Woodmans Luck won the photo by a nose, the bean counters be damned.
The son of Lucky Pulpit (who also sired the penultimate race winner, California Chrome, in the King Glorious Stakes) is trained by Vladimir Cerin and owned by Holly and David Wilson.
“I almost would have taken a four-horse dead heat there and let everyone have a piece of the last race,” Cerin told Hollywood Park publicists. “When they were coming down the stretch, all I could think of is how sad that it was over. I didn't think he could win from where he was.
“Oddly enough,” Cerin added, “Gary Stevens won a race for me here on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24, 2000) on a horse named Jingle Bell Hop and that was the last race on the card. It's almost hard to enjoy the win when you think this is the last race at this racetrack. When I started training here, I think it took me a year to win my first race and to have it end like this just seems surreal.”
“That was really emotional,'' said Nakatani. “It's hard to really say that much. This has always been such a great place to be. After winning a bunch of races here, it's hard to see it go. It's pretty sad.''
Racing moves to Santa Anita Park in Arcadia for its traditional opening day on Dec. 26. Santa Anita will run its longest meeting ever, taking over many of the spring and summer dates formerly held by Hollywood Park. Los Alamitos will run a brief meeting in July late in the year, and Del Mar will hold a fall meeting in November, to help fill the void left by Hollywood's demise.
The owner of Hollywood Park, Bay Meadows Land Company, said it will keep the stable area open for another month, until the end of January. That's when reality sets in for horsemen and the stable hands based at Hollywood Park as they are forced to relocate their horses to Santa Anita, San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsall, Los Alamitos in Orange County, or Barretts Sales & Racing in Pomona.
For fans of Hollywood Park, and the employees who have toiled for years at a racetrack they knew was doomed, it's over.
It was fun while it lasted.
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