After 75 years, Hollywood Park in Inglewood is set to close all operations… (Matt Sayles / Associated…)
Everyone knew the day was coming and now it's a reality. After 75 years of horse racing, Betfair Hollywood Park will end its operations following the final race of its autumn meeting Dec. 22.
The words "sad day" were repeated often Thursday afternoon at the Inglewood track, where owners, trainers, jockeys and fans reacted somberly to the news.
The official announcement came in a letter from track President Jack Liebau sent to the California Horse Racing Board on Wednesday informing them that Hollywood Park Land Co. would not be requesting any 2014 racing dates.
Since the track was sold in 2005, developing the land has been the primary goal, especially since the business model for horse racing has been facing severe challenges from a dwindling horse population, lagging on-track attendance and continual infighting within the industry.
"From an economic point of view, the land now simply has a higher and better use," Liebau said.
So much has changed since Hollywood Park opened in 1938. It was built to woo the rich and famous. Among the 600 original shareowners were some of the biggest names in the movie business — Jack Warner, Sam Goldwyn and Mervyn LeRoy.
Seabiscuit won the inaugural running of the Hollywood Gold Cup. Some of racing's greatest horses ran at Hollywood Park — Citation, Swaps, Noor, Round Table, Ack Ack, Seattle Slew, Cigar.
It was the place where Hall of Fame trainers Charles Whittingham and Bobby Frankel did battle and where jockeys Willie Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay Jr. and Chris McCarron engaged in memorable stretch duels.
"I remember when I was 7 years old," trainer Marty Jones said. "Cars were all lined up on Century Boulevard just to see Seattle Slew."
Hollywood Park was where Sunday racing debuted in 1973. A tote bag promotion drew a record crowd of 80,348 on May 4, 1980. The $1-million Pick Six was begun in 1998. California's first synthetic track surface, the Cushion Track, was installed in 2006.
Racing executives Marjorie Everett and R.D. Hubbard blossomed and thrived at Hollywood Park.
But the rise of Internet betting, simulcast wagering and changing demographics have put horse racing in Southern California in a precarious position.
"People have different interests than the glory days," Liebau said. "Times have changed."
Santa Anita and Del Mar are expected to pick up racing dates with the closure of Hollywood Park. More challenging will be finding additional stable stalls with the loss of 1,800 stable spots.
"It's better to know and move forward," trainer Mike Puype said. "They've given everybody enough time and notice."
Liebau said demolition should begin soon after Dec. 22. Hollywood Park Casino will remain, and Liebau said memorabilia will be preserved.
"It was unbelievable," jockey Victor Espinoza said of his days riding in the 1990s at Hollywood Park when he was in his early 20s. "There were big crowds. They had good purses. The fans were here. Now it's mainly simulcasts. It's like watching TV. A lot of farms are closing, big owners are dying. We don't know which direction we're going. Hopefully, we can save racing in California."