As you know, Hollywood Park has closed for good. Most people only think of thoroughbred racing when it comes to Hollywood Park, but once upon a time, Hollywood Park was known for its standardbred meet. Peter Lawrence was gracious enough to allow me to reprint his memories.
A final goodbye to the once-great Hollywood Park ...
... even though harness racing said its own farewell to the Inglewood, California place about 30 years ago (1984, maybe?), after then-track operator Marje Everett reconfigured the dirt surface to 1-1/8 miles, a highly-unfriendly arrangement for standardbred racing, which would've had to start one-mile races on the first turn.
(There was still harness racing at Los Almitos in the L.A. area back then; that's long-gone, too.)
But now, Southern California thoroughbred racing at least still has access to meets at Santa Anita and Del Mar. How the Los Angeles megalopolis has no harness racing is still as mysterious to me as why it has no NFL football.
Anyway, Hollywood Park, or its final incarnation as "Betfair Hollywood Park," is racing its final card this afternoon. Goodbye Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lucas, Gary Stevens, Corey Nakatani, Mike Smith and the rest.
And although they're mostly HollyPark ghosts now, goodbye Albatross, goodbye Super Bowl, goodbye Flight Director, Try Scotch and Tender Loving Care. Goodbye Handle With Care, goodbye Dayan, goodbye Bret Hanover. Goodbye Joe O'Brien, Joe Lighthill, Gene Vallandingham, Jack Parker Jr., Rick Kuebler. Goodbye Jerry Silverman.
(Some of these people are still alive, just elsewhere.)
Goodbye, The Thilly Thavage, Thithter Thavage and especially Niatross. And goodbye, legendary harness GM Pres Jenuine.
Have I left anyone out? Sure, I've left hundreds out, both horses and people. Nearly all the harness racing stars of the day used to show up at Hollywood Park; the list would've been too long.
When I was with O'Brien from 1978 to 1980, I used to attend the fall harness meet nearly every Saturday night with my late friend, Mitch Asher. We used to make the harness scene together in our native New York at Roosevelt, Yonkers, Monticello, Saratoga and Buffalo. We did Indianapolis, Northfield and Hazel Park. We did Garden City, Orangeville, Blue Bonnets and Richelieu in Canada. And when we found ourselves, just by coincidence, both in SoCal, we did Hollywood Park, mostly in the costly Turf Club. (I got passes; you think I was paying $7.00 a night, in 1978 bucks? Man, what would that be now?)
I'd heard of Rambling Willie, the Horse that God Loved, of course, and probably had seen him race a few times. But he really made a fan of me when I saw him race twice at Hollywood, in the Western Pace and the American Pacing Classic. He won one week on the front end, and the other week from behind. That was impressive. How did he ever lose?
The most money I ever made betting on a harness or thoroughbred race was the thousand dollars (several thousand? I forget) I won betting my stable's Flight Director (driven by O'Brien) against Try Scotch (Shelly Goudreau, or maybe trainer Jim Dennis). Try Scotch was not only favored, he had nearly the whole win, place and show pools. Flight Director, who I knew was in tip-top shape, was, like, 4-to-1. Try Scotch somehow finished off the board, and all the prices were crazy when Director won.
I had, maybe $2.00 or $5.00 on our horse to win, but I really raked it in on the place and, especially, show bets. First, I had $20 on Director to show, but I realized that if Try Scotch won, my probable $2.10 payoff wouldn't even pay for my losing win bet, so I bet more to show, then more and more, finally going to $120 to show.
Did I mention that Try Scotch took nearly the whole show pool down with him? Flight Director paid something like $10.40, $25 and $40 across the board. I'm guessing at all the numbers, but it was something like that. I know I made a ton of money.
And the best part of the eventually sad story was what later happened to that profit.
What to do with all that cash, I wondered? Put it in the bank for a paltry 5% in a savings account? (Remember, in those high inflation days, when savings accounts paid actual interest?) Nah, I felt I could do better somewhere else: gold. South African Krugerrands.
I bought two, at about $500 each for the one-ounce coins. Later, I bought another.
The gold price soon went to $600 an ounce, and I held. Then, $700 and $800. Heck, I figured I'd ride it out to $1,000 before selling. Well, it topped out at about $950, and I still held.
A year or two later, I'd left O'Brien, and was living in the Chicago area (Hinsdale, to be specific), working as an editor at a magazine called *Illinois Standardbred*. I was living with some guy in a one-story apartment building, and after coming home from the races at Maywood Park (or was it Hawthorne?), I found that my room had been ransacked.
The window was open, the curtains were flapping in the mid-winter wind, and the tote bag in the back of my closet, in which I had the three ounces of gold (as well as $500 in cash, and some other valuables), was gone!
I reported the theft to the police, of course nothing was ever recovered, and, in retrospect, the thief was probably my own Lithium-addled roommate, whose name I can't even begin to remember.
Oh well, easy some, easy go, right?
So that's my Hollywood Park story. Goodbye Western Harness Racing meet. Goodbye, Shapiro family that operated the place (the harness meet, anyway) at the time.
See ya. It was good to know ya. Really good to know ya.
Here is a video of Niatross winning the 1980 American Pacing Classic.
Here is Niatross setting a track record in the final leg (1 1/8 miles) of the Classic.