Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Farewell to Hollywood Park

It was known as the track of Lakes and Flowers, a beautiful display of color and excitement that brought some of the biggest stars in Hollywood out to Inglewood for an afternoon of racing. Its renowned Turf Club, where men had to wear a jacket and tie and women were not allowed to dress in slacks, was a who's who  for such legends as Cary Grant, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Hedy Lamar, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe.
It was Hollywood's race track, far enough away from Santa Anita to have its own identity and fan base.
In its heyday the track was run by Marge Everett, and I met her once when I drove Times columnist Jim Murray to interview trainer Laz Barrera. Murray had arranged to meet Barrera in the Turf Club for lunch and to talk with him about his Triple Crown-winning horse, Affirmed.
On that day, Affirmed was to be paraded before the Grand Stand in a ceremonial tribute by the racetrack to the great horse's accomplishment. Affirmed is the last horse to win the Triple Crown, which he did in 1978.
At that time there was an up-and-coming 3-year old filly named Chris Evert, which was to race that day. In attendance was the tennis star Chris Evert, who the horse was named after, and her then-boyfriend Jimmy Connors.
Some thirty-five years later, Hollywood Park is about to close. It is in the final days of its fall meeting, with race cards filled with mostly two-year-old hopefuls and its Grand Stand barely a quarter filled. After the last day, it will be torn down and a complex of retail stores, condominiums and hotels will be built over the land that includes its backstretch and barns.
It is a symbolic display of what is happening to horse racing on the West Coast. On a recent trip to Santa Anita, a friend stood in line to place his bets on the fourth race, and he noticed that many of the people in front of him where betting on races at other tracks, most of them in the Midwest and the East Coast.
I will always remember that day with Murray and also how kind Marge Everett was to him. She was his good friend and among the biggest names in Los Angeles sports.

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