April 25, 2013
By KENNETH MILLER
Assistant Managing Editor
It is no longer a question of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ will one of America’s most treasured racetracks close its gates for good.
Racetrack employees have known since Bay Meadows Land Company purchased Hollywood Park from Church Hills Downs for $260 million in 2005 that their days were numbered.
Bay Meadows Land Company had previously purchased Northern California racetrack Bay Meadows and did to it what it plans on doing to the Inglewood racetrack.
At the time of the purchase, the company had only promised racing for three more years, which meant it should have already been history by now.
However, the recession of 2008 doomed any such land development plans as the housing market crashed, thus subsequently restricting Hollywood Park to schedule meet by meet.
The aggressive and unrealistic plan by Bay Meadows proposed to “transform” the 238-acre site at the corner of Century Blvd. and Prairie Ave. into a “new modern community.”
It would remove racing that has existed since 1938 and the casino that was built in 1994 and replace it with parks, a hotel, theatre complex and about 3,000 new town homes or condos.
Hailed as Hollywood Park Tomorrow, the project pledged to produce 19,000 jobs for Inglewood residents, make a $2 billion investment and a projected $40 million in tax increment.
In fact some of the land has already been sold to a group of developers called Inglewood Renaissance, the city of Inglewood has voted to approve the project and an environmental impact study has been conducted.
Advocates say the new project is exactly what residents want and need, but the growing lists of critics are skeptical. They say that Inglewood already has plenty of parks, nearby town homes in Carlton Square is losing tenants and not gaining them and a new bustling Century Blvd., which has a shopping complex with major retail outlets, fast food chains and restaurants.
In the meantime, the racetrack has been off the respirator and breathing on its own, although attendance remains under 10,000, the on track handle has increased and recently Los Angeles subsidiary Betfair, which is owned by TVG, signed a five –year deal for naming rights.
If Hollywood Park could talk to humans it would tell us about the glory years when Citation became the first millionaire and when jockeys like Laffit Pincay Jr. and the late Bill Shoemaker rode past the finish line to a roar of applause.
The homegrown freakish mare Zenyatta which never lost a race at the track and finished with career earnings of more than $5 million while becoming the first female horse to beat males in the Breeders Cup Classic.
Zenyatta was so popular that she created a new buzz during her improbable undefeated streak before she finally lost by a nose in her final Breeders Cup Race against males.
More than any other horse that ran at Hollywood Park, Zenyatta inspired a legion of new fans women and children to come to the racetrack and watch her spot the field some 18 to 20 lengths before she came roaring down the stretch, gobbling up her competition for the victory.
There are several similar stories, but one of my all time favorites’ horses was JO Tobin and I loved late track announcer Harry Henson, the steel courage of the rags to riches story of Lava Man.
Only World War II in 1942 managed to keep horseracing from being staged during a scheduled meet at Hollywood Park, but the Bay Meadows Land Company is doing its best to shut it down once and for all, it just won’t be April 25-July 14.