Billy Joel came out with a song several decades ago that always made me think of Hollywood Park when I heard it on the radio. Now in 2013, I never thought I would see the day that those words would were made to be true.
Hollywood Park saw such history in the making season after season. Millions of racing fans saw a list of champions that is probably longer then the mile and one eighth circumference of the track. I have a collection of those old VHS tapes that have dozens of old races at Hollywood Park. Every time I feel a bit of nostalgia coming on, I cure it by popping in one of those tapes in the VCR. I am probably the only person in a 10 block radius that still owns a VCR. Some of my VHS collection include races from Swaps, Ack Ack, Round Table, Native Diver, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid, just to name a few. All of those days working in the Broadcast Center at Santa Anita, helped me save a bit of history in those VHS tapes.
When I was a trainer , I saddled my first horse at Hollywood Park in the Hollywood Park Derby. Prevalence, a son of Cadeaux General, was coming off a third in the Bay Meadows Derby on the turf. The owners, all 23 of them, decided to give me a chance at training and terminate the relationship they had with their former trainer. So there, I was now a trainer saddling big horses in big races. One would think it’s an easy game, right? Wrong! Prevalence with Hall of Famer, Laffit Pincay, jr. finished a dismal 6th on a turf course that was nothing less then a bog.
While training on my own, my horses were usually based at Hollywood Park. This was mainly because, it was easier for me to get stalls in a decent barn and I felt Hollywood was more horse friendly then the barn area at Santa Anita. The tack rooms were nicer, newer and easier to obtain for your help. On days when the races were at night, I found myself sleeping in my office till the alarm went off in a few short hours at 4:00. The climate was always perfect seeing not much more then a mist or fog in the mornings and warming up in the afternoon to the high of 72 degrees. Perfect horse training weather.
While working for Paco Gonzalez, we had many winners at Hollywood Park. Except for the drive across town, Paco too enjoyed the variety of tools horsemen had to train their horses at the beautiful track. In 2001, a little dark bay colt by Gone West won his racing debut by 6 1/2 lengths with Chris McCarron in the irons. That horse was Came Home, my baby. Shorty, as I called him, was schooling in the paddock the day before his first race and I noticed Richard Mandella just keeping a watchful eye on the colt.
The next day when I went down to the winners circle, Mr. Mandella looked at me and said, “Now I know why you had that hidden grin on your face.” Came Home was a runner. He then won the Hollywood Juvenile in his second start. His third start took him to Saratoga Springs where he won the GI Hopeful Stakes earning a trip to the Breeders Cup at Belmont. Other horses that were lucky enough to get their picture taken in the winners circle at Hollywood Park in our stable were, Elaborate, Bienamado, Bosque Redondo, Kumari Continent and Free House.
Hollywood Park is a landmark which was the home of racing for 75 years. Now those dates are to be split by Santa Anita (The Great Race Place) and Del Mar. There is even talk of Los Alamitos taking some of the dates. I am sure lots of changes will be made over the course of the next several years. Stall space will be a hot commodity again as several fine horseman have made their home at the Inglewood, CA track for years.
The other night after all the social media sites were filled of comments about the last race at Hollywood, I started going through my thick book of win pictures that I have been toting around with the VHS tapes. Memory upon memory of so many good horses. I realized they were just like, “Songs in the Attic”.