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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Betfair Hollywood Park begins final meeting

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Thursday marks the beginning of the end for Betfair Hollywood Park.

The storied racetrack, which first opened in 1938, will hold its final race meeting this fall, beginning Thursday and running through Dec. 22. The barn area will remain open until the end of January. In 2014, the track will cease to exist on the Southern California racing landscape, and is scheduled for commercial and residential development.

Gone will be the spring and early summer meeting that provided the first glimpse of the circuit’s juveniles, and the autumn meeting where accomplished horses were tried in major stakes to try to secure one more win for a possible championship.

Hollywood Park hosted the first Breeders’ Cup, in 1984, and again in 1987 and 1997.

In the last 15 years, the track, south of downtown Los Angeles, has been the site of several milestones. Among them, Laffit Pincay Jr. broke Bill Shoemaker’s record for career victories in 1999. Lava Man won three Hollywood Gold Cups from 2005-2007. Zenyatta, stabled at Hollywood Park, won eight of her 19 races here. Fittingly, she was given a retirement party at Hollywood Park in December 2010, a month before she was named the Horse of the Year for that season.

When the Bay Meadows Land Company bought the track from Churchill Downs Inc. in July 2005, the track’s long-term viability was cast in doubt. Bay Meadows Land Company made a three-year commitment to live racing, hoping to acquire government approval to install slot machines. The initiative failed, but racing continued beyond those first three years.

In the summer of 2012, track president Jack Liebau told the California Horse Racing Board that Hollywood Park would not commit to racing beyond the summer of 2013. Last January, Liebau told the racing board the track would race this fall, but did not commit to racing in 2014. In May, the track announced racing would cease operations after this year.

At the time, Liebau wrote in a letter to employees that when alternative gaming was not approved “the ultimate development of Hollywood Park’s property was inevitable.”

The forthcoming race meeting has a calendar similar to recent fall seasons, highlighted by the Autumn Turf Festival and major stakes for 2-year-olds in December. The Sunday, Dec. 1 program has two Grade 1 turf races – the Hollywood Derby for 3-year-olds and the Matriarch Stakes for fillies and mares.

The $500,000 Hollywood Starlet Stakes for 2-year-olds fillies is Dec. 7, one week before the $750,000 Cash Call Futurity for 2-year-olds on Dec. 14. The feature race on the Dec. 22 closing day is the $200,000 King Glorious Stakes at seven furlongs for California-breds.

Thursday’s eight-race program includes an optional claimer at 6 1/2 furlongs that marks the return to racing of Hear the Ghost, the winner of the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita last March. Hear the Ghost was injured after that race and missed the Triple Crown.

In between Thursday’s opener and Dec. 22, attendance is expected to be higher as racing fans make their final visits to Hollywood Park.

When the track closes, the racing calendar in Southern California will change for 2014 and beyond. Santa Anita will extend its winter-spring meeting until late June. Los Alamitos in Orange County will have two brief Thoroughbred meetings – two weeks in early July and the first three weeks of December. Del Mar will host a new autumn meeting next November.

By then, Hollywood Park’s grandstand and barn area will either be a decaying relic or a beehive of construction activity. While simulcast wagering is scheduled to continue in the adjacent casino, the track will be reduced to memories for racing fans and those directly involved in the sport.

For some, that will be recollections of the place they saw racing for the first time, collected a lucrative bet, or spent a warm summer evening watching races and a rock concert.

For others, the memories are even more personal.

Trainer Tom Proctor was 16 years old when his late father, Willard, trained Convenience to win a $250,000 winner-take-all match race by a head over Typecast at Hollywood in 1972. Convenience raced for Glen Hill Farm. On Dec. 1, Proctor will start Glen Hill Farm’s Wishing Gate in the final running of the Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park.

“I was there for the match race when Dad ran in it,” Proctor recalled on Tuesday. “I’ve been going there since Princessnesian won the Gold Cup [in 1968]. I won my first race there.

“Racing will go on. I think it’s a shame it’s come to this.”

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