Still basking in the success of its first night of thoroughbred racing, Hollywood Park returned to the sunshine Saturday, with the $75,000-added Los Angeles Handicap the feature race on the card.
Before the six-furlong sprint could be run, however, there was time for Marje Everett, Hollywood Park's chairman and chief executive officer, to reflect on the events of the night before, when a crowd of 40,700 helped the track celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Final figures showed that in addition to the larger-than-expected crowd on hand, another 9,203 fans visited off-track betting sites and that together they wagered a total of $9,262,503, including $7,544,610 bet at Hollywood Park itself.
Everett said the figures indicate that night thoroughbred racing could become a viable sport in Los Angeles, but that it is up to the horsemen to approve any move in that direction.
"I think it showed that there's an audience out there," Everett said. "I saw a lot of younger faces, I saw a lot of dates. There was a different atmosphere. To me there was the same excitement that we used to have when there was a huge carryover of the Pick Six in pre-Lottery days."
Horsemen have long resisted any move toward night thoroughbred racing in California, and the three-year contract they have with Hollywood Park specifically states that the track must have the horsemen's approval before initiating night racing.
Everett, however, believes that racing under the lights has a future here.
"Everybody knows that I've always wanted and felt that night racing could assist us a great deal," she said. "But we made an arrangement with the horsemen, and it's just obvious that unless the horsemen embrace night racing, we're not going to have night racing.
"Anything we would like to do, they have to approve. We're partners. I may want to do something, but if I don't get their support, its not going to be successful, anyway."
After considerable debate, the horsemen agreed to allow Friday night's program as a way of celebrating the track's anniversary. Everett said it was not the track's intent to try to force the issue on the horsemen.
"This was not a gimmick, this was not a wedge or a power play," she said. "But obviously it was a very successful evening, and who knows what the future holds?"
Asked whether Hollywood Park might try to hold another night of racing before the three-year contract expires in two years time, Everett said: "I would say this, three years is a long time."
She said that while larger purses and simulcasting have helped racing locally, the sport still is experiencing difficulties. Night racing could help turn it around, she said.
"You shouldn't have to go to artificial resuscitation before you worry about the patient," she said. "I think racing has problems. I don't think you would have New Jersey racing today if Meadowlands (and its night racing) had not come on the scene.
"I'm not going to say that last night gives us a reason to launch a campaign. We would hope that people (the horsemen) would look at it and reassess it."
Everett said reaction from horsemen she spoke to Saturday was positive.
"Everybody was very complimentary, but that doesn't mean they'll support it, don't misunderstand me," she said. "I don't fool myself. But I don't quite understand the (horsemen's) reasoning when a harness industry or a quarter horse industry operates at night, the lack of adjustment on the thoroughbreds where they have a lot more money to run for.
"But I'm not looking to launch a campaign. I'd love to see it fall in place, but I'm controversial enough without creating more (controversy)."
There was no controversy surrounding the Los Angeles Handicap, which Olympic Prospect won convincingly under Alex Solis in front of a crowd of 28,943.
The 4-year-old chestnut gelding covered the six furlongs in 1:08 4/5, just three-fifths of a second off the stakes record set by Beau's Eagle on the old course in 1980. Second, 1 3/4 lengths behind, was Happy In Space, ridden by Martin Pedroza, while a neck back was Sylvan Express, with Russell Baze aboard.