THE HOARSE WHISPERER By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 8 July 2009, Wednesday
Southern California Racing
Los Angeles, California – On a visit to family and friends in the San Francisco area last week, I was told that the nearest racetrack, Bay Meadows in San Mateo, had been shut down since August 2008. Nothing was left of the historic track founded in 1934 save for piles of debris and junk.
It was crushing to hear that the track upon which Seabiscuit won the Bay Meadows Handicap in back-to-back years (1937 and 1938), where legendary jockey Bill Shoemaker started his racing career (in 1948), and which was once the longest continually operating track in California, is now only a cleared piece of real estate, to be developed with condominiums, malls, parks, and business offices.
Here in the Los Angeles area, two racetracks are still operating – Hollywood Park and Santa Anita Park. Hollywood Park is just a few miles away from the Los Angeles International Airport. The summer race meeting started April 22 and willl end on July 19, with night racing on Fridays beginning at 7 pm and afternoon action on Thursdays and the weekend from 1 pm.
Last Sunday, jockey Kent Desormeaux, winner of the 2009 Belmont Stakes with Summer Bird, rode to victory in the $700,000 American Oaks on Gozzip Girl. The big-money turf race drew a lineup of international contenders and was one of the most-cheered races on the card that day, with fans roaring as the Eastern-based filly crossed the finish line firt.
Santa Anita Park in Arcadia is the oldest racetrack in SoCal, having opened its doors to patrons on Christmas Day 1934. Seabiscuit also raced here – he won the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap in his last start. It is also home to the G1 stakes races Santa Anita Derby and Santa Anita Oaks.
In 2007, park parent company Magna Entertainment, in compliance with a State of California directive to install a synthetic-surface track to protect horses, installed a Cushion Track surface in 2007. A drainage problem resulted in a switch to a Pro-Ride all-weather surface last year.
There are no race meetings there at present – their season ended last April – but the track offers simulcasting of Hollywood Park races and their restaurants such as the Frontrunner draw many patrons during racing days. The Breeders’ Cup event will be held here in the first week of November. The popular and prestigious racing festival, which attracts fields of international runners, adds luster to the track’s racing calendar and will be one of its crowd-drawers this year.
While maintaining a sense of history, the two SoCal tracks of Hollywood Park and Santa Anita Park feature innovations and facilities that continue to draw loyal fans and curious sports fanatics. Will Philippine racing do as well in the years to come? ***