Hollywood Park Memories: All the Free Stuff

by | 12.20.2013 | 12:06pm
A Chris McCarron bobblehead was among the freebies given away over the years at Hollywood Park

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?

  • 4Bellwether666

    Bill Veeck was one hell of a promoter and tried to bring his magic to Suffolk Downs but the crooks (politicians) up there in Boston ran him off…You want to read a great book about “The Game” pick up a copy of “Thirty Tons a Day”…ty…

  • David

    Allan Balch was (and is) an extremely bright guy, Harvard-educated coupled with an appetite with racing. Allan was the first to utilize tactics that had been used in other industries for years.
    Creating trial supported by some paid advertising in those days was seemingly easy when you were giving something away. Problem was that, depending on what you happen to be promoting, you may or may not be successful in creating an actual patron going forward. In the days of initial give-a ways at racetracks the (racing) product – relative to competitive alternatives like football, baseball, basketball, etc. – was good enough to build a degree of brand loyalty. Today, not so much.

  • Hoops and Horses

    I remember when The Meadowlands did a sportswatch giveaway in 1983 they had a massive overflow crowd and then a couple of months later Yonkers Raceway did the same giveaway on a Thursday night and drew 19,000 (and amazingly, few “spinners” to inflate the crowd) on a night that normally would have drawn 4,000-4,500 or so otherwise (the Yonkers crowd I remember was at that time their largest since 1980 when they did that giveaway).

    A far cry from today.

  • dispute92

    I was dreaming someone stepped up and gave the owners an offer they couldn’t refuse…Just doesn’t seem right to see this happen to a legendary track. So much history and soon rubble.
    I know many don’t feel the same way. It just always had that ‘Hollywood” movie and stars association.
    Just a silly romantic being delusional.

  • Olebobbowers

    A tank top showing Miley Cyrus on the wrecking ball would be a great final day giveaway!

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