Hollywood Gold Cup Print E-mail

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July 5, 2012

Like its namesake, the Hollywood Gold Cup has a long, rich history.

From Seabiscuit’s handy victory in the first Gold Cup, to Lava Man’s three consecutive victories on two different surfaces from 2005-’07 to First Dude’s win by a nose last year, some of the greatest horses in the archives of racing-- Swaps, Round Table, Gallant Man, Affirmed, Native Diver-- have stormed home to victories in the Grade-1 race each July at Hollywood Park. Exiting the clubhouse visitors can gaze upon the names of all the Gold Cup champions engraved on a marble wall.  HwoodGoldCup3

Founded in the heyday of Hollywood, the Ingleside track opened its doors in 1938 as the Hollywood Turf Club with Warner Brothers executive Jack L. Warner as the first chairman of the Club. The original 500 Hollywood Park investors included numerous producers, directors, actors and actresses.  Among those in the venture were Jack and his brother Harry Warner, Al Jolson, Raoul Walsh, Darryl Zanuck, Walt Disney, Samuel Goldwyn, Joan Blondell, George Jessel, Irene Dunne, Hal Wallis, Bing Crosby, Ralph Bellamy, Ronald Colman and Mervyn LeRoy who gave us "The Wizard of Oz," and who served as the director of Hollywood Park from 1941 until his death in 1986.

LeRoy once said: "Like motion pictures, racing is amusement, and in the amusement field the public will patronize only the best."

Warner raised $2,233,000 to build a track on a bean field in Inglewood that featured a clubhouse which seated 3,000, a 12,000-seat grandstand, standing room for another 40,000 and stalls for 1,250 horses.

At Hollywood Park, image was everything.

The 37-acre infield was painstakingly landscaped with trees and flowers complementing three artificial lakes covering 10 acres, replete with islands and waterfalls. It gave Hollywood Park its sobriquet, "Track of Lakes and Flowers." In a distinctly Hollywood touch, a "goose girl" was chosen to oversee the track's resident colony of ducks and later to paddle about the lakes in a swan-shaped boat.

HwoodGoldCup2An enclosed saddling paddock and a sunken tote board that allowed fans a clear view of the backstretch were other innovations, but the Hollywood-inspired idea to display the horses on a revolving turntable before each race got no traction.

The inaugural edition of the Hollywood Gold Cup was staged on July 16, 1938. Nine other horses-- carrying between 105 and 120 pounds-- lined up to try to beat Seabiscuit who was lugging 133 pounds before a crowd of 60,000 on a sun-splashed afternoon. Five-year old Seabiscuit went off at 7-10 odds  in the 1 ¼-mile race.  

After breaking sluggishly, jockey George Woolf dropped Seabiscuit back to ninth place and at the half-mile post he was trailing Specify by a dozen lengths. He moved into contention coming out of the far turn, an eighth of a mile to run. Woolf shifted Seabiscuit to the rail. Seabiscuit’s ears flipped back and flattened, and he started gunning for Specify. He swept past the leader and flashed under the wire by 1 1/2 length, breaking the track record.  

It was Seabiscuit’s one and only appearance over the Hollywood Park racing strip.  In the winner’s circle W0olf and the horse were draped in flowers: “I thought it would be easy,” he said, “and it was.”

During the track’s first half century many of the stars owned and raced their own stable of horses.  

Telly Savalas owned the renowned "Telly's Pop." For a big race, Savalas once made a dramatic entrance at the track via helicopter. Fred Astaire loved the races, and in 1980, the 81-year-old Astaire married jockey Robyn Smith -- at 35, younger than both of his children. Louis B. Mayer became so obsessed with his stable of ponies that he was given an ultimatum by the MGM film company-- produce horses or produce pictures. Cary Grant was such a regular at Hollywood Park that after he died, they named their new clubhouse the Cary Grant Pavilion. Al Jolson was an avid owner of racehorses, as was Bonanza’s Michael Landon and even more recently rapper MC Hammer and Kevin Costner.  

From the early 1950s through the early 1970s Hollywood Park led the nation in daily average attendance, handle and purses. Racing and aviation history were recorded in 1946, when Historian was flown from Chicago to compete in the Hollywood Gold Cup, the first time a horse was shipped by air to run in a specific race. He ran third, beaten by two necks.

The Gold Cup is 73 years old this year. None of the winners was greater than Citation.

Bred by Calumet Farm in Kentucky and trained by Hall of Famers Ben Jones and son Jimmy Jones, Citation bent a hoof after winning the 1948 Triple Crown and was laid off a year. Looking for easier rivals, his connections shipped him to California in 1951 for some easy money to crack the $1 million career earnings mark. After losing a couple of sprints at Bay Meadows Citation was sent to Hollywood Park where he rounded into form, scoring victories in the last three races of his life.

On July 14, 1951, the Joneses managed to sneak Citation into the Gold Cup at 120 pounds. He was spectacular that day, harkening to his glory days in which he was considered by some to be the greatest horse in history. His emotional four-length victory was Citation’s grand farewell to the fans. And he finally got his million--the 100 grand put him at $1,085,760, stamping him as the first million dollar horse.

In the 1956 Gold Cup, Swaps with the great Willie Shoemaker aboard set a 1 ¼-mile track record of 1:58 3/5. The following year Round Table-- the first three-year-old to win the race-- actually equaled Swaps’ time in an easy 3 ¼-length win. The son of Princequillo was a three-time grass champion, 1958 handicap champ, and 1958’s Horse of the Year. Round Table also earned champion handicap male honors in the Thoroughbred Racing Association’s 1959 poll.HwoodGoldCup1

Coal black and full of fire, Native Diver spread his legend across seven California seasons. His devoted trainer Buster Millerick handled the gelding like fine china, keeping Native Diver going strong through 81 starts and 37 victories, banking $1,026,500. He won many big-money stakes in California. But above all, Native Diver will be remembered for winning three straight Hollywood Gold Cups from 1965 to 1967, running each faster each time as he got older. Native Diver won each of his Gold Cups by at least 4 ¾ lengths.

In the 1970’s, Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham won five editions of the race, including four in a row from 1971 to 1974. Known as the dean of racing on the West Coast for most of the last half-century, the “Bald Eagle’s” winners were Ack Ack (1971), Quack (1972), Kennedy Road (1973), Tree of Knowledge (1974), and Exceller (1978).  Laz Barrera trained Affirmed, the last colt to win the Triple Crown, who won the 1979 edition of the Gold Cup.

Whittingham’s Ferdinand won the Horse of the Year and champion older male awards in 1987, both in large part due to his Gold Cup win. He then won the Breeders’ Cup Classic that season over his rival Alysheba. The two, after subsequent rematches, hooked up again in the 1988 Gold Cup but fell short of Cutlass Reality, with Alysheba finishing second and Ferdinand third.  

The horse who wins the Gold Cup Saturday will be led over to Hollywood Park’s gorgeous winner’s circle.  He should be proud to stand on the same hallowed ground.

 

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