May 9, 2013

Hollywood Park racetrack to close after 75 years

It's the second major California horse racetrack to close since 2008, and will be turned into housing, retail and office space.

By Beth Harris / The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Betfair Hollywood Park will close by year's end and the 75-year-old racetrack property in Inglewood that hosted Seabiscuit and the first Breeders' Cup in 1984 will be developed with new housing and retail by its owner.

click image to enlarge

Liaison and Martin Garcia win the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap horse race at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif.

The Associated Press / Benoit Photo

It's the second major California racetrack to close since 2008, when Bay Meadows near San Francisco was shuttered after 74 years to make way for a similar development.

The track announced on Thursday that it won't apply to the California Horse Racing Board for 2014 dates, signaling the end of the line for a property whose future had been in question since Churchill Downs sold it to Hollywood Park Land Co. in 2005.

At the time, the new owner said racing would continue for a minimum of three years while an effort was made to revitalize the sport's business model. But the track had little luck in stemming declines in wagering and attendance, problems that plague the racing industry nationwide. Statewide initiatives to install slot machines at the track also failed.

"From an economic point of view, the land now simply has a higher and better use, so, unfortunately, racing will not continue here once the 2013 autumn meet is completed," track President Jack Liebau said.

The owner spent more than $8 million to replace the track's dirt surface with synthetic Cushion Track in 2006 as part of a then-statewide mandate for such surfaces.

A casino on the property will continue to operate, and is expected to be renovated as part of the new development, Liebau said.

The track's 260-acre footprint will be turned into 3,000 new housing units, including single-family townhomes and condos; 25 acres of parkland, including a 10-acre central park; and a retail and entertainment district, anchored by a movie theatre, office space and a 300-room hotel.

"We've lasted longer than anticipated because of the economy and this happening now is some indication the economy is improving," Liebau said. "It's going to be a major change as far as Inglewood is concerned."

He said the track owner has secured all entitlements with the city of Inglewood.

"Construction can start almost immediately after the first of the year," Liebau said.

Hollywood Park's current summer meet runs through July 14. The fall meet opens Nov. 7 and ends on Dec. 22.

The stable area is expected to close by the end of the year.

"They are scrambling on where they're going to house these extra horses," said Liebau, noting that when Hollywood Park isn't hosting live racing there are still about 1,000 horses on the grounds.

The closure is expected to set in motion a scramble by Southern California's other tracks to acquire Hollywood Park's racing dates. Santa Anita, located across town in Arcadia, may be in line to pick up the bulk of the dates. That track currently has live racing from late December to early April, and again in early fall.

The region's other tracks are Del Mar, located north of San Diego; and in the Los Angeles area, Los Alamitos and Fairplex.

Hollywood Park opened in 1938 under the direction of movie moguls Jack and Harry Warner. Celebrities regularly attended the races.

Among the star horses that ran at Hollywood Park were Seabiscuit, and Triple Crown winners Citation, Seattle Slew and Affirmed.

Champion mare and 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta was based at Hollywood Park, and so was I'll Have Another, last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.

The Breeders' Cup began at the track in 1984, and was held there again in 1987 and 1997.

Some of the sport's fixtures began at Hollywood Park and spread throughout the industry, including Sunday racing, which debuted in 1973, and fan giveaways.

The Pick Six, a wager in which bettors must pick the winners of six consecutive races, was launched at the track in 1998. Other exotic wagers that originated there include the superfecta, which involves picking the first four finishers in the correct order.

"Our fans and all of the employees who have worked at Hollywood Park, both past and present, deserve our thanks and gratitude," Liebau said. "They have been the backbone of this historic venue."

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