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SOCIAL CLIMES / UP ALL NIGHT

The Place for Cheap Horsing Around

June 28, 1996|MARK EHRMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The fun is doled out by the furlong. The price is, well, jockey-sized. That's Friday night--a.k.a. Dollar Night--at Hollywood Park, which for the last three years has been attracting a crowd of twentysomethings to rival the more traditional weekend nightspots.

The deal is simple. On any Friday night during the season (that's April 1 through July 31 and Nov. 1 through Christmas), everyone through age 30 gets in for a buck. Beer and hot dogs are also just a dollar each. Depending on your luck--or your self-control--that can work out to a pretty cheap evening's entertainment.

"One of the problems with racing is that we have been unable to attract the younger crowd," says M.D. Hubbard, president of Hollywood Park Inc. "They've got other things to do, lots of options. So we came up with this idea to try and get the 18- to 30-year-olds out here, and it's been extremely successful. Our average crowd is up around 100%."

Hubbard is quick to point out that the young people don't bet as much. "In other words, we have 100% more people, but our handle is up only around 30% to 35%. But they're learning and they're enjoying it, and they're having fun."

For Gen Xers looking for a new scene, going to the track allows them to indulge in film-noir decadence on a slacker's budget. "I come here a good portion of the Friday nights during the season," says 30-year-old Dan Sias, who stakes out a place near the finish line where he and his crowd of UCLA alumni meet most weeks. "We all come out here and hang out and party and play the horses. We're here for the scene and to hang out with friends. It's basically a good place to party for a cheap price."

While Sias spends the time between races poring over the Racing Form and agonizing over $2 bets, others in his group simply take in the sights. "I usually start betting maybe the ninth race," says Tulie Cartagena, 24, who drove up from San Diego to meet with her old posse.

"I come here just to watch the crowd, mostly," she says. "It's such a nice array of people. You get low-budget and real high-budget people. From all the corridors of Los Angeles, people come. All races, all creeds. I've even met actors and actresses here."

Even the dictum "You can't win if you don't play" doesn't hold true. To juice up the party atmosphere, Hubbard added a band, a cheerleading squad called the Hollywood Starlets and more trinket giveaways and contests than there are races. Between races, the Starlets occasionally launch T-shirts into the crowd from a giant slingshot.

Other times, there are contests and drawings. In one, the winner enters a giant glass room while a fan blows bills in all denominations, and you get to keep as many as you can catch in a minute.

"I don't even bet," says Xochitl Barrios, who had just left the cash chamber clutching a fistful of legal tender. Barrios, 18, came down to accompany her boyfriend. "I didn't expect to win anything," she gleefully reports. "Now I have $416."

*

Where: Hollywood Park. 1050 S. Prairie Avenue, Inglewood; (310) 419-1500

When: Fridays. First race, 7 p.m.

Cost: Grandstand admission: through age 30, $1; older than 30, $6. Beer and hot dogs, $1 each. Free parking and program.

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