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Analysis : It Was a Follywood Park Production : Track's Performance on Breeders' Cup Saturday Left a Lot to Be Desired

December 11, 1987|BILL CHRISTINE | Times Staff Writer

California, which has had a stranglehold on the Breeders' Cup races, probably won't get them again until 1991.

And there is talk within horse racing circles concerning whether Hollywood Park will ever get the Breeders' Cup again.

In running the seven races worth $10 million Nov. 21, the Inglewood track soured many of the 57,734 fans who attended and disappointed racing officials from around the country.

There were massive traffic jams, shortages of programs and giveaway sweater vests, and interminable lines at betting windows and concession stands. Even visiting turf reporters were victimized when a large area of the auxiliary press box was turned over to the public.

"The Breeders' Cup was the worst-managed major event that I've ever attended," one veteran newspaper columnist said.

One of the five members of the Breeders' Cup site committee that selected Hollywood Park for the 1987 event is regretting the choice. And in a telephone interview this week, John Nerud, a member of the committee, was critical of Hollywood for underestimating the crowd and being unable to cope with it.

Nerud was also critical of his own committee, which included chairman Nelson Bunker Hunt, John Mabee, Gibson Downing and Brownell Combs.

"We didn't do our homework," said Nerud, referring to the date of the Breeders' Cup races, which were run on one of television's heaviest college football days. Besides the problems at the track, the Breeders' Cup wound up with the lowest television ratings in its four-year existence, a 2.9. Even its best rating, a 5.1 in 1984, was not considered good.

Marje Everett, chief executive officer of Hollywood Park, said the track would like to hold the Breeders' Cup again. This was the second time the races were held at Hollywood, with the series going to Aqueduct in 1985 and Santa Anita last year.

"We know there were glitches, we know we had problems," Everett said. "But many of them were in areas beyond our control. As the problems piled up day by day, leading up to the Breeders' Cup, you got the feeling that you should start walking West (toward the ocean) and not stop walking."

A month before the Breeders' Cup, Hollywood Park officials were publicly projecting a crowd that would break the record of 69,000 that was set at Santa Anita last year.

Privately, though, Hollywood Park must have been believing pessimistic newspaper forecasts, which said that the crowd would be much smaller.

"The track kept telling us (Breeders' Cup officials) that they were figuring on 35,000," Nerud said. "We kept telling the track that they better be ready for 60,000."

Indications that Hollywood Park was in for a troubled day were evident as early as 9 a.m., when fans came in complaining about the traffic.

Naturally, the congestion worsened. At 10 a.m., Dave Gorman, a racing official from Woodbine, near Toronto, left his Century Boulevard hotel and started a drive of about two miles to the track.

Near the corner of Century Boulevard and Prairie Avenue, which runs by the track, it became obvious to Gorman and his wife that they weren't going to reach Hollywood Park in time to see the Breeders' Cup Sprint, the first race of the day, at 11:17.

"At that corner, the traffic police appeared to be contributing to gridlock rather than preventing it," Gorman said.

Gorman, who thought the Sprint was going to be one of the best races of the day, left his wife with the car in traffic and ran for the track. Gorman is 6 feet 9 inches, with legs to match, and he got there in time to see Very Subtle upset heavily favored Groovy. But he wasn't joined by his wife until 1 p.m.--three hours after she had left the hotel.

Actor Robert Wagner was supposed to present the trophy to the winner of the Sprint in the winner's circle. Despite an early start, he didn't reach the track until the third race.

People arriving after the first race were further exasperated when they found that there were no programs.

"Running out of programs, that was unforgivable," Nerud said.

According to Everett, the track didn't actually run out of programs, but the result was the same.

"Because a four-color process was involved, we had to use an outside printer," Everett said. "Breeders' Cup people were still making changes in the program at midnight the night before the race.

"So it wasn't the printer's fault. He got a late start, and we just couldn't get enough of the programs to the track in time to handle the crowd."

Everett also said that Hollywood Park was not responsible for the traffic bottlenecks.

"We had meetings with the City of Inglewood long before Breeders' Cup day," Everett said. "They didn't handle the situation well. It wasn't an effective job. And then they closed two (parking lot) gates on us without telling any of our people. Fans were denied access to parking lots without our knowledge."

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