With Hollywood Park closing tomorrow, I wanted to share three Hollywood Park stories with you. I wanted to share a 4th one, but that story is the basis of a critical part of my upcoming novel Southbound, so I’ll leave it out 🙂 Obviously I’m not from LA so my attachment to Hollywood Park isn’t as strong and rooted as many who are mourning the ‘Track of the Lakes and Flowers’ this weekend. However, I can unequivocally say I wouldn’t be an announcer without Hollywood Park. So it’s a special place.
Last time at Hollywood
My last trip to Hollywood Park would have been in the summer of 2009. My sister was graduating Law School in San Diego and I was down there for a few days. So Friday Night I was at the races and I pieced together a Pick 3 that paid just over a thousand bucks. As with any ticket over $600, you gotta sign a W-2G form to get your money. So I go to cash out, and unlike my home state of Washington, where I’d cashed numerous signers over the year, you had to have a Social Security card. Shit. I didn’t have mine with me and my mom and sister were still down in San Diego. I didn’t trust any strangers at Hollywood Park and I had to leave in literally hours to start heading back home. I called my poor pal Jon who lived about an hour from HP and begged and pleaded with him to come. I told him i’d give him 10% of the ticket and he drove down to HP and was nice enough to sign for me. I probably blew back half of the ticket within an hour of him getting me the money!
The Big Hit
It was December 2, 2005. I was at home and decided to punt away at the late Pick 4 at Hollywood Park. One of the beauties of horse racing is any day can be the day the big one comes. (Big obviously different for different people). I played the ticket and went three deep in the first leg, including a 15/1 lone speed horse named Nostalgie. Nostalgie went right to the front and dominated the race and my ticket was off and running. Best part was he beat a 1/5 Baffert entry! Leg 2 brought a 6/1 shot and shortly after that race went official, my phone rang. It was work. They needed me to come in (I was working as a floor man at my mom’s poker room). Shit. So I dressed slowly so I could watch the third leg, where I had two horses live, one even money and the other 7/5 in a small field. 7/5 won with ease and I was out the door and off to work, with three horses live to what I was sure would be a good score. I had the 4,9,10 on my ticket but I wasn’t going to be able to watch the race. I didn’t have a smart phone at this point, so I was going to have to wait until I got home from work which wasn’t going to be until late. So many hours later, instead of checking my online account balance, I went right to racereplays.com and pulled up the race. The 10 was a 3/1 fave, the 9 was 6/1 and the 4 was 16/1. The four broke beautifully and had to duel early on. He disposed of his early rivals and opened up in mid-stretch as my pulse made a serious effort at jumping out of my neck. The 7 came out of the pack and started charging at my horse. David Cohen begged and pleaded with the 4 and the wire came up just in time, as the 4 won by a neck at 16/1. I pumped my fists and screamed out loud, all alone in my house at 1 in the morning. $7,406.10 was my take-home, before G.W.Bush and his tax cronies got a hold of 28% of it. But that score paid for all my Xmas gifts, paid for a trip down to LA to spend new years playing cards with my friends Flynn and Chad.
Vic and Cesario
I was in the Quarter Chute Cafe at Emerald Downs, a small backstretch cafe down by the Quarter pole. The Grade 1 American Oaks was coming up and I didn’t have a bet down on it. I was waiting for a race at Emerald that my friend Ben Root had a horse in that I was going to stack on (It lost). But I sat in the corner of the cafe, all by myself and turned the TV up to hear Vic Stauffer’s call of the race. “They’re Off….good start” This massive black beast of a filly from Japan named Cesario was absolutely eye-catching early in the race. She had run off before the race and I figured she had no shot. As she started to pull away, Vic Stauffer, the announcer at Hollywood Park, started a call that made the hair on my arms stand up. “Cesario has opened up a big lead. She is four lengths in front of Singhalese, Melhor Ainda is eight lengths from the Japanese SUPERSTAR Cesario! Cesario past mid-stretch, she’s five lengths in front, Melhor Ainda might get into second, but NO WAY does she catch the winner Cesario!” I stood there in awe. I felt his passion for calling that amazing horse and it made me want to do that. I bought a set of binoculars the next day. I spent the next few months on top of the Emerald Downs rooftop practicing calling into my little head set. When Portland started I practiced down there. 7 months after Cesario made that run and Vic made that call I was offered the job at River Downs and my career was off and running.