A group of supporters is pushing to keep California’s Hollywood Park Racetrack open, following its last day of racing on December 22.
The American Association of Equine Sports Preservation (AAESP) is aiming to keep the track open as an entertainment complex, horse training park and premier center for horse wellness programs and equine therapy programs.
The AAESP’s mission is to protect the historical, cultural and economic value of equestrian sports and related industries.
It is lobbying California Governor Jerry Brown to keep Hollywood Park Racetrack, and has some powerful allies, including legendary horse trainer Jack Van Berg, famed “horse whisperer” Monty Roberts, television personality and jockey Chantal Sutherland, trainers Tom Proctor and Doug O’Neill, and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
The group is also leading a petition drive to save the park, which has received support from many influential figures in the horse racing industry. It so far has 3000 signatures but it aiming for 10,000 by early March 2014 to list the park as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The track was opened in 1938 by the Hollywood Turf Club. It was designed by noted racetrack architect Arthur Froehlich, and its chairman was Harry Warner of Warner Brothers. Harry Warner, Al Jolson and Raoul Walsh were members of the founding Board of Directors.
On May 9, 2013 in a letter to employees, Hollywood Park president F. Jack Liebau announced that the track would be closing. In the letter, Liebau stated that the 260 acres on which the track sits “now simply has a higher and better use,” and that “in the absence of a favorable change in racing’s business model, the ultimate development of the Hollywood property was inevitable.”
The final day of racing at the track in Inglewood was December 22, with training ceasing this month.
In a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown, AAESP president and founder Allison Booth, said: “We would like to join forces with you to help showcase California’s entertainment industry while continuing to provide billions of dollars in tax revenue to the state and providing much-needed jobs.
“Saving Hollywood Park would be a tremendous boost for California’s economy, especially for Inglewood, CA, which has a 13.5% unemployment rate. We feel Hollywood Park could indeed be preserved, as well as support a new string of restaurants, retail shops, and an entertainment center to feature Broadway shows from New York and other cities – becoming a ‘Madison Square Garden of the West.’ Hollywood Park is also suited to host a state-of-the-art sports stadium for a Los Angeles NFL team while also addressing some of our society’s great challenges.”
In 1991, the track underwent a $20 million reconstruction project, which included the construction of six handicapped-equipped barns. In all, there are 18 barns with 1950 stalls, 619 tack rooms, and 216 feed rooms. In 2006, a new cushion track racing surface was installed. Hollywood Park is also the state’s most centrally-located track,near downtown Los Angeles, Los Angeles International Airport, beach cities and three major highways.
Booth said the AAESP proposes the creation of public-private partnerships to support the funding of military wellness programs, as well as the construction of a world-class entertainment facility.
“We as an industry fully embrace the opportunity to lend our expertise and other resources to support programs that help humans heal while giving retired racing horses (and their owners) new careers,” she wrote, noting that about 20% of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTSD, and suicide among veterans now averages one every hour, accounting for 20% of all US suicides.
“Science proves that interacting with horses can be an effective method to help people heal from trauma.”
Booth also requested a meeting with Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), who represents Hollywood Park in the state’s 43rd congressional district, to brief her on the issue. Booth called upon Waters to hold a series of public hearings to discuss other uses for the track, which has the ideal infrastructure to support the proposed conversion. Booth said a new law that went into effect on January 1, 2014 would give Hollywood Park Casino a three-year extension.
Booth, the chief organizer of the meetings, said she and her allies do not want Hollywood Park to suffer the same plight as Bay Meadows Park which was demolished and then sat empty for five years, losing millions in revenue to the state of California.
“When developers destroyed Bay Meadows and extinguished its 74-year history, they made promises of development that, with the exception of a few custom-built homes, have not materialized. What stands is a devastating reminder of lost history, lost jobs, and millions of dollars in lost tax revenue to the city and state,” she wrote.
Hollywood Park also houses a flock of rare pink flamingos that originate from “The Breeder’s Flock” in Hialeah, Florida – which is the only fertile flock of flamingos in the US. “We are also working to preserve the wildlife sanctuary on the infield of the park. Last month, all but two flamingos were captured and removed from the park. We are encouraging Audubon members to get involved to protect these magnificent wild fragile creatures,” Booth said.
It has been reported that the flamingoes are being relocated to a Northern California zoo. About 50 cats living in the stable area are in search of new homes before the barn area closes at the end of January.
The Edmonton Journal reported that the graves of three horses buried in the infield will be relocated. Hollywood Gold Cup winner (1965-67) Native Diver will be moved to Del Mar near San Diego; 1982 two-year-old champion filly Landaluce will return to her birthplace at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky; and 1988 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Great Communicator is also being moved.
The first ever Breeder’s Cup was held at the track in 1984 and many of America’s greatest horses, trainers, and owners lived and raced at the park – including Seabiscuit, and more recently, Zenyatta, 2010 Horse of the Year.