Buffalo Bill’s defunct all right and soon so will be another great American icon—Hollywood Park. Poet e.e. cummings [sic] expressed the destruction of our country’s childhood-like faith and wonder with his famous Buffalo Bill poem line. Now the same theme hovers over the Inglewood, California track that once featured great Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds.
Track president Jack Liebau told the California Horse Racing Board that Hollywood Park would be open through the remainder of 2013 but there was doubt for any racing beyond then. Most sources involved believe once Hollywood’s fall racing season ends, the 75-year-old facility will be closed. That, for all due purposes, means defunct.
Hollywood Park’s demise transcends the physical disappearance of horse racing in the Golden State. This death, like Buffalo Bill’s death, is not so much a tragedy from a financial crisis as it is a sign of cultural change. As one critic described the Buffalo Bill conclusion, so the great theater of horse racing follows in that it “has not undergone a tragic crisis, [it] has not passed through a spiritual ordeal; [it] simply has ceased operating, liquidated like a bank or a poorly placed filling station.”
That Bay Meadows also performed liquidation in the north a while back and harness racing faced homelessness for the umpteenth time last year before getting a reprieve with new financing allowed Cal Expo to remain the sole harness racing plant in our country’s largest state.
For those of us that were patrons, gamblers and horsemen involved in the Western arena of horse racing, Hollywood Park’s future (no doubt to turn into a commercial and residential development) is a serious development. In sad contrast, the general public sees it as a matter-of-fact event leaving them “unawed and even somewhat flippant,” as another critic described how Buffalo Bill being defunct affected so few.
My philosophic side shouts that in order to keep harness racing from being defunct we have to take drastic measures that invite a new audience. We have to appeal to a generation of people that are more concerned about the money to be made playing than the spark and spirit of heroes, human or equine.
The lesson to be learned from Hollywood Park is that few people have been entertaining an emphasis on gambling to bring in business while casinos blossom offering nothing else but the crude exchange-of-money entertainment.
It is time for a severe paradigm shift, one that puts the beauty and pageantry of our sport below the fact that racetracks are for gambling and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to learn the ropes of gambling first and foremost. There is time later, after the new fan learns pari-mutuels are not casino games and racetracks are not bookies, to love a horse or a star driver. Now is the time to sell the game, not the players.
Now is the time to plan the resurrection of Buffalo Bill.
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