Los Angeles (AFP) – Hollywood Park, once America’s most famous horse racing showplace with legendary moviemakers and film stars among its patrons, closed Sunday after 75 years with a final slate of 11 races.
Such equine icons as Seabiscuit, Citation, Affirmed, John Henry and Zenyatta competed at the impressive venue in suburban Inglewood, which opened on June 10, 1938.
Film industry legends were among 600 shareholders who founded the track to attract the rich and famous, including Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, Al Jolson, Warner brothers studio’s Jack Warner, MGM’s Sam Goldwyn and noted producers Darryl Zanuck and Mervyn LeRoy.
But as cinematic generations changed, so too did the fortunes of U.S. horse racing, with simulcast betting and more wagers being done through the Internet helping reduce live attendance at tracks.
A real estate development is planned on the site of a track where Cary Grant once strolled with starlets and famed comedians once enjoyed their leisure hours, a place where only nostalgia remains.
“People stop to talk and none of them, I really mean none of them, still believe they are going to tear this place down for real estate. We’ve all been told that, but nobody seems to believe it,” 86-year-old box seat usher Richard Warren told the Los Angeles Times.
“I remember Fred Astaire, sitting in these boxes. Then there would be Lucy and Desi Arnaz and they’d be arguing about something and they’d be with Jimmy Durante and he’d be just sitting there smoking a big cigar and ignoring them,” he continued.
Triple Crown winner Citation captured the 1951 Hollywood Gold Cup, the last race of his career and one that took him above $1 million in winnings, the first horse to crack that mark.
Seabiscuit, made famous to 21st Century sport and film fans in a 2003 movie, won the inaugural Gold Cup in 1938.
Shared Belief, prepared by Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, won the 33rd and last CashCall Futurity earlier this month in the final major event at Hollywood Park, a $750,000 race for two-year-olds that had showcased the next year’s Kentucky Derby hopefuls.
“I’ve loved the place and I hate to see it go,” Hollendorfer said.
The largest crowd to attend races at Hollywood Park was 80,348 on May 4, 1980.
The first Breeders’ Cup was staged at Hollywood Park in 1984, handling more than $11.4 million in wagers with a crowd of 64,625 and an estimated television viewership of 50 million people.
Panamanian jockey Laffit Pincay Jnr broke Bill Shoemaker’s former career victories record of 8,833 at Hollywood Park on with a victory on December 10, 1999.
Pincay established a new mark of 9,530 races before retiring in a ceremony at Hollywood Park in 2003, although Pincay’s record was eclipsed by Russell Blaze in 2006.