From horse racing’s point of view, it really is too bad that Los Angeles sports teams do so well.
Last spring, Marje Everett, Hollywood Park’s chairman and chief executive officer, was bemoaning the impact the Lakers’ successful run to the National Basketball Assn. title was having on the Inglewood track.
This week, Ray Rogers, general manager of the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita, was saying much the same about the Dodgers.
“We had to run against some other attractive events, including the Dodgers in the playoffs and the World Series,” Rogers said Monday, after final figures showed that average daily track attendance had dropped yet again.
And on Tuesday, Everett already was wondering what effect the Kings’ apparent resurgence under Wayne Gretzky would have on Hollywood Park’s fall meeting, which opens today.
"(Gretzky) is formidable because he’s obviously a big draw and he’s producing, which he figured to do,” Everett said. “And, with none of the football titles yet decided, both in the professionals and college, we have quite some competition.”
Whatever the causes, it appears safe to say that the fall meeting will see track attendance slip again, just as it has done at each Southern California race meeting since the arrival of intertrack wagering last fall.
Still, when off-track figures are included, overall attendance and handle are up at Santa Anita, Del Mar and Hollywood Park, so thoroughbred racing, for the moment at least, can applaud the Lakers, Dodgers, Kings and others and not be overly concerned about lost fans.
Then, too, the tracks do have their own equine Magic Johnsons, Hershisers and Gretzkys. Everett, for example, is hoping trainer Jack Van Berg can persuade Alysheba’s owners not to retire the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and horse-of-the-year favorite so that he can run in the $500,000 Hollywood Turf Cup on Dec. 24.
“In the fall, what might save us is that some of the stars of the Breeders’ Cup will be available to us for our meeting,” she said. “I think that will give us a tone and a quality that we always felt the fall needed.
“We’ve tried to make a very strong closing (with the $500,000 Hollywood Starlet Dec. 4, the $1-million Hollywood Futurity Dec. 18 and the Turf Cup on closing day). If we get lucky (and get) Alysheba, and we have Great Communicator (the Breeders’ Cup Turf winner) in the turf stakes, it could be a lot of fun.”
The 34-day fall meeting, comprising the second half of the track’s 50th anniversary season, includes 16 stakes races worth a combined $3.4 million. All but three of the stakes are graded and none is worth less than $75,000.
Other Grade I events include the $200,000 Hollywood Derby, to be run Sunday, and the $200,000 Matriarch, set for Dec. 11.
The feature event on today’s opening-day card is the $75,000-added Moccasin Stakes, which was won by Lady’s Secret, 1986 horse of the year, in its inaugural running in 1984.
Today’s expected field of 10 2-year-old fillies for the 6 1/2-furlong feature includes trainer Mel Stute’s Cool Arrival, Executive Row, trained by Hap Proctor, and trainer Joe Manzi’s Lady Lister.
Cool Arrival, who will be ridden by Oak Tree meeting champion jockey Pat Valenzuela, is undefeated in 2 starts, having won each by 4 lengths or more. Aaron Gryder will take Executive Row to the gate. Gryder rode the filly to a 4 1/2-length victory in the Junior Miss Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 10.
The filly also finished third under Gryder in the Landaluce at Hollywood Park on July 9.
Lady Lister, meanwhile, was third in the $200,000 Oak Leaf Stakes Oct. 10 at Santa Anita after a pair of stakes victories at Fairplex Park and Del Mar.
Horse Racing Notes
Among the plethora of statistics that come with the ending of each race meeting were these from Oak Tree: Favorites won 81 of the 243 races, or exactly 1 in 3 races, and finished in the money on 153 occasions, or 62% of the time; the highest Pick Nine payoff was won by a fan who picked eight winners on closing day and went home $268,452.40 richer; the highest Pick Six payoff was on Oct. 8, when one ticket worth $136,871.80 was cashed.
If Bill Shoemaker does retire next year and this proves to be his final Hollywood Park fall meeting, there are 5 races he would like to win. Of the 16 stakes being run during the meeting, Shoemaker has won 11 at least once. The 5 he has yet to win are the Affirmed Handicap, the Hollywood Starlet, the Hollywood Turf Express, the Moccasin Stakes and the On Trust Handicap. . . . The meeting runs through Dec. 24, with a post time of 1 p.m. on all but 2 of the 34 racing days. On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, first post will be at 11 a.m., and on closing day it will be at 12:30 p.m.