Bing Crosby was an important part of racing at Hollywood Park.
On Hollywood Park’s first opening day, in June of 1938, Barbara Stanwyck awarded the trophy in the winner’s circle. Fresh off of a Best Actress Oscar nomination, Stanwyck was a huge star. She was helping Hollywood Park live up to its name as a favor to friends who had bankrolled the racetrack; friends who included Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, and Jack Warner of Warner Brothers.
Hollywood Park announced this spring that 2013 would be the track’s final season. Financial difficulties have forced the track to shut down to make way for a new upscale housing development in Inglewood, the South Central Los Angeles neighborhood where Hollywood Park has been located for over 75 years.
Anyone who has spent a day at the races at Hollywood recently has likely noticed that the track no longer feels as glitzy and glamorous as it did in its early days. Inglewood, too, has changed considerably over the years. The area is mainly working class and home ownership is low. It likely needs the new housing more than it needs an old racetrack, so few people should cry for Hollywood Park. The history of this once-great racetrack, however, should be remembered and celebrated.
A number of incredible horses have run at Hollywood Park. Seabiscuit won the first Hollywood Gold Cup in 1938. When Citation won the same race in 1951, he became the first horse to win a million dollars. Affirmed, Seattle Slew, and Cigar all raced there. I’ll Have Another, last year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, was based at Hollywood, as was 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta.
The first-ever Breeder’s Cup was held at Hollywood Park in 1984, and was held there again in 1987 and 1997.
Many popular wagers started out as experiments at Hollywood Park. The track invented the Pick-6 and even the superfecta.
The casino at Hollywood Park will remain open, and the horses will mostly find new racing dates at Santa Anita and Del Mar.
The storied race course, however, will soon be gone and replaced by 3,000 new housing units and a shopping complex. Hollywood Park’s demise will surely be used by many as evidence of the death of horse racing. Since 1938, when Hollywood opened, more than 75 racetracks have been built and opened in the United States (almost one every year), and many have experienced rebirth through the addition of slot machines or other forms of gambling to supplement racing revenues.
Hollywood’s demise is instead a reminder that this is a business, and that racetracks are often owned by corporations, not sentimental racing fans. It is too late to save Hollywood Park. Honor its memory this week by spending a day (and some money) at your local racetrack. And maybe listen to a little Bing Crosby while you’re at it.