Hollywood Park named a new director of public relations Thursday--former Dodger official Steve Brener--and then gave an example of why he's moving into one of the toughest jobs in sports.
A season that had a rocky start on Breeders' Cup day--traffic bottlenecks, a shortage of programs and other problems that angered hundreds of fans--careened to a conclusion, with several jockeys complaining about the safety of the turf course shortly before Thursday's last race was run.
With a meet-long Pick Nine pool having grown to $2.5 million, the stewards might have invited a riot if they canceled the race. By state law, the pool was required to be paid out because it was the final day of the season.
Faced with three choices--running the race on grass with perhaps only two horses starting, canceling the race or switching it to the dirt--the stewards took the dirt option. Then five trainers scratched their horses, which meant Pick Nine players with any of those four were given, by law, the favorite in the race.
The favorite, Breakfast Table, ran fourth.
"The main consideration in deciding what to do with the last race was the safety of the riders and the animals," steward Pete Pedersen said. "But because of the Pick Nine, we would have had hell to pay (if the race had been canceled)."
If the race had been canceled, the Pick Nine would have become the Pick Eight, according to the rules.
Because of the Breeders' Cup--a crowd of about 57,000 bet more than $13 million--and the Pick Nine that resulted in 23,662 betting $6.1 million Thursday, Hollywood Park finished ahead of last year's daily averages.
This fall's attendance averaged 18,926, up 6%, and the daily handle was $4.4 million, a gain of 14.3%.
"Without Breeders' Cup day, we would have been slightly down for the meet in attendance, but we were still up about 7% in betting with that day excluded," said Eual Wyatt, Hollywood Park's racing secretary. "We figured the attendance would be down because of the three new off-track betting facilities."
Betting on telecasts of Hollywood Park's races at Del Mar, San Bernardino and Ventura resulted in an additional season's handle of $23 million, from an attendance of 125,455.
Hollywood Park's on-track totals were compared to last season, when the attendance and handle were the lowest since the track started running in the fall in 1981.
Four bettors picked all nine winners Thursday, each collecting $571,873.80, minus 20% for the federal government.
Minutes after the eighth race, the second division of the Dahlia Handicap, jockey Laffit Pincay contacted the stewards and said that the turf course wasn't safe.
In the Dahlia, Hollywood Glitter and her rider, Gary Stevens, almost went down on the second turn when she stepped into a hole with about three-eighths of a mile to run.
Hollywood Glitter bumped Asteroid Field, the favorite, who appeared to have plenty of room on the rail before Stevens' mount bobbled and came over.
Hollywood Glitter finished fourth but was disqualified by the stewards for interference and placed last in the six-horse field. Asteroid Field finished sixth and was moved up to fifth. The race was won by Top Corsage, by a neck over Any Song.
"When she stepped into the hole," Stevens said of Hollywood Glitter, "she just fell in. She had to keep herself from falling. I don't know how the other mare stayed up. When we brushed, it just turned her into the other horse more. There were soft spots out there."
Stevens and Pat Valenzuela were other jockeys who indicated their dissatisfaction with the conditions to the stewards.
"They were professional about it, nobody actually said that he wouldn't ride if we didn't take the last race off the grass," Pedersen said.
One of the stewards said that Don Robbins, Hollywood Park's general manager, noted that there was a pool of water on the far turn, which had been caused by a broken sprinkler head.
"The track is so bad, but I won very easily on my filly," said Jose Santos, who rode Top Corsage to a victory worth $18.80 for $2. "So many horses got into trouble, and they were stumbling and stumbling because there were so many holes in the track."
Aaron Gryder, the 17-year-old apprentice who wound up the meet's leading rider with 31 wins in 27 days, was aboard Asteroid Field.
"The other horse (Hollywood Glitter) hit a hole and fell into my horse," Gryder said. "I really thought I was going to be right there, because my horse felt strong."
In the first division of the Dahlia, which was run two races earlier, there were no incidents as Invited Guest, under Bill Shoemaker, won by 1 lengths over Secuencia and paid $6.20.
Horse Racing Notes