May 28, 2022

Trainers say goodbye to Hollywood Park

Last updated: 12/22/13 7:12 PM

So many faces in and out of my life

Some will last

Some will just be now and then

Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes

I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again

Say goodbye to Hollywood

Say goodbye my baby

Say goodbye to Hollywood

Say goodbye my baby

-Billy Joel “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”

Long before trainer Bob Baffert was inducted into the Hall
of Fame, an impromptu trip to Hollywood Park left an indelible impression on the
Nogales, Arizona native.

After a brief stint as a Quarter Horse rider in 1970, he
and a friend traveled to California and spent a day at the Inglewood track.

“I remember visiting Hollywood Park for the first time in
1971 or 1972,” Baffert recalled. “We were able to get a couple of passes left
for us. The place was really packed. and the parking lot was so full, we had to
park really far away.

“The thing I remember most was getting up close to the
winner’s circle and seeing Cary Grant. That was a thrill.”

Baffert began his rise to the top with a string of Quarter Horses at Los Alamitos in 1983. He made a big splash when Gold Coast Express won
the Champion of Champions, but few people remember the 1986 World Champion also
raced at Hollywood Park.

In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, Hollywood Park was part
of a Quarter Horse circuit that included Bay Meadows and Los Alamitos. The
mixed-breed meets also featured Appaloosas.

It is also seldom recalled that New Mexico’s Ruidoso Downs
was for a period of time (1947-1953) named Hollywood Park.

“The Gold Coast Express era was a lot of fun,” Baffert reminisced. “He won a
big race at Hollywood Park and I remember watching the race in the (then
recently-built) Pavilion (of the Stars) where the new finish line was after they
reconfigured the track.”

Two of his fondest memories of Hollywood Park had nothing to do with his
training, though.

“I’m a big fan of the game,” Baffert declared. “When Pincay was going for the
record, it was exciting.”

Baffert was referring to December 10, 1999, when Hall of Fame
rider Laffit Pincay Jr. rode Irish Nip to victory for Hall of Fame trainer
Richard Mandella, breaking the legendary Bill Shoemaker’s record of 8,833.

Baffert also counted among the legion of followers of Zenyatta, the 2010 Horse of the Year whose home base was Hollywood.

“When you think of Hollywood Park, you have to think
Zenyatta,” Baffert said. “Every time she ran, it was something special. The fans
really got into it.”

Baffert’s list of personal achievements are too numerous to
mention, but an immediate thought that popped into his head was Game On Dude’s
victory in the 2012 Hollywood Gold Cup.

“It was a real feel-good story when Chantal
(Sutherland-Kruse) became the first woman to win the race,” he said.

It’s easy to pick out trainer Ron Ellis’ two major
accomplishments at Hollywood Park — victories with Declan’s Moon in the
2004 Hollywood Futurity and Rail Trip in the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup — but neither
tops his personal list.

“I met my wife, Amy, here in 1987,” the 57-year-old
Ellis explained. “I saw her in the betting line and asked her if she wanted to
split an exacta. Luckily, it won and we split another one after that.”

The two were married in 1988 and have three
daughters — Elizabeth, Laura and Christine.

Saying goodbye, why is it sad?

Makes us remember the good times we’ve had

Much more to say, foolish to try

It’s time for saying goodbye

-Jim Henson’s The Muppets ‘Saying Goodbye”

John Sadler owns numerous training titles, but has no
hesitation picking out Melair’s victory in the 1986 Silver Screen Handicap as a
career milestone.

“She beat (Preakness winner) Snow Chief by 11 lengths that
day and her time (1:32 4/5) was the fastest ever by a three-year-old filly,” Sadler
said proudly.

In fact, at the time only three horses, including the great
Dr. Fager, had run faster.

The Silver Screen turned out to be Melair’s final
appearance. She retired undefeated in five starts.

Turn out the lights the party’s over

They say that all good things must end

-Willie Nelson “Party’s Over”

Perhaps Neil Drysdale summed up the closing of
Hollywood Park best.

When asked of his fondest memories of the track, the Hall
of Fame trainer and former assistant to Charlie Whittingham, a Hall of Famer and
the all-time leader at Hollywood Park with 222 stakes wins, responded, “There
were thousands of them. That’s a silly question.”

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