The directors of the California Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Assn. were licking their wounds this week in the wake of a Hollywood Park-sponsored poll that revealed an overwhelming majority of the organization's membership is in favor of semi-regular night racing at the Inglewood track.
Of the approximately 3,000 responses from owners and trainers counted by Hollywood General Manager Don Robbins and CHBPA Executive Secretary Robert McAnally, 80% supported the proposal to hold four Friday night programs at the current meeting.
"I'm surprised the count was so one-sided," said trainer Noble Threewitt, president of the horsemen's group, "although I did think the vote would go for the night racing proposal, since Hollywood Park was able to push its position in the letter that went with the ballot.
"But we had a chance to poll our membership and lay out the negatives of night racing, and we decided not to. In that sense, we played right into Hollywood's hands."
Threewitt remains adamantly opposed to night racing, as does trainer Richard Mandella, who is also a director of the association.
"Because of the way the vote went, it wouldn't be right for us to fight it," Mandella said. "But that doesn't mean I'm jumping on the bandwagon.
"As far as I'm concerned, racing at night cheapens the sport. And I'm not convinced that the track has put the same effort into promoting the weekend programs that it plans to put into Friday nights.
"They say they want to draw a younger crowd--people who can't come on weekdays. Well, I don't see them out here on Saturday and Sunday afternoons right now. Who says they're going to show up on Friday night?"
According to Threewitt, the CHBPA board of directors voted, 9-2, against taking any further action to impede Hollywood Park's Friday night plans.
"Even though I still have problems with the way the poll was conducted, the message was clear," Threewitt said. "We thought we reflected the position of our membership.
"I'm not sure all the owners who voted in favor of night racing really understand what the impact will be on the people who work with the horses. Here's just an example of the kind of thing that will start to happen:
"Last Saturday I claimed a horse out of the last race. The new rules now say that a horse has to stay in the test barn until they get a certain quality test (specimen), no matter how long it takes. A trainer who loses a horse to a claim has to keep a man there until the test is satisfactory. And I've got to have my man there to take the horse back to my barn.
"That race was official at about six o'clock, and it was 8:45 before that horse was finally bedded down. Almost three hours! If you run your last race at 11 p.m. and something like that happens, you've got a man working until 2 a.m. When's he going to sleep?
"As I've said all along, night racing will be like medicine that you think is good for you. It may fix something right away, but there will always be unpleasant side effects."
After the four-Friday trial run this summer, subsequent Hollywood meetings figure to include full-time Friday night racing. Then, after Hollywood's self-imposed five-year "Fridays only" limitation expires, regular weeknight racing will likely be proposed by the Inglewood track.
Traditionalists among trainers and owners have been fighting the idea of night racing at Hollywood Park for more than three years. Now that they have lost, they will turn their attention to coping with reality.
New Jersey-based trainer Jimmy Croll has been living with that reality since the fall of 1977, when the Meadowlands in East Rutherford opened its first thoroughbred night meeting. Croll, who admits to being a charter member of the old school, said the horses have a hard time adapting, never mind the people.
"If you're stabled at Meadowlands and you have a horse running in one of the later races, then the lights are on in your barn and there can be commotion until 1 or 1:30 in the morning," said Croll, whose current stable star is the brilliant 3-year-old Housebuster.
"Horses need their rest to be at their best, just like people. And there are some horses who can't sleep unless there's peace and quiet. There's others, of course, who are just like the guy who can fall asleep in the middle of the street."
Croll keeps his entire string at Monmouth Park near the Jersey Shore, then vans his runners up the turnpike to the Meadowlands for their races. There was a time, though, that the trainer split his horses between the two tracks. They ended up being divided into the sound sleepers and the chronically wakeful.
"I had four or five horses, mostly fillies, who just could not hack it," Croll recalled. "They couldn't get any rest (at the Meadowlands) and just fell apart. I'd have to ship them back and try another one. But I suppose they'd all get used to it eventually. They also say if you hang a man long enough, he'll get used to hanging."
Horse Racing Notes
Prized was assigned the high weight of 125 pounds for Monday's $500,000 Hollywood Turf Handicap. Steinlen was listed at 124 pounds for the 1 1/4-mile race, followed by Golden Pheasant and Hawkster with 122 each. Prized worked a fair seven furlongs in company on the turf Wednesday morning, and trainer Neil Drysdale said he would make a final decision on the colt's status today. Jeff Siegel, speaking for Prized's owners, said the San Luis Rey Stakes winner is no better than "50-50" to make the Memorial Day stake and might start in the June 3 Californian instead.
Sunday Silence's fans are still talking about the reigning horse of the year's workout on Monday. With Chris McCarron aboard, the colt ran a mile in 1:35 3/5, with consecutive quarters in :23 1/5, :23 2/5, :24 and :25. Tentative plans call for another mile workout Saturday, a blowout next week and then his 1990 debut in the Californian.