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Closing scene
Friday, December 20, 2013 - by Tim Bojarski

Next week marks the end of an era. Hollywood Park will run its final card on December 22 and close its doors forever.

The track will always be remembered historically as a Thoroughbred shrine, but its harness racing history ran deep for many years as well.

Image courtesy of the author
A Hollywood Park program from 1959

The golden era of harness racing at the Hollywood Park was when the Western Harness Racing Association hosted their year-end meet in the 1950s. Many of our great horses and drivers headed West annually when all the action in the East ended for the season.

Hall of Fame trainer-driver Joe O’Brien was a fixture, racing horses for the Sol Camp Stable, but there were many other big names that made the trek each year: Del Miller, Howard Beissenger, Billy Haughton, Eddie Cobb, Doug Ackerman, Harry Pownall Jr., James Dennis, Dana Irving, Harry Fitzpatrick, Wayne Smart, Jimmy Wingfield, Luther Lyons, Eddie Wheeler and Wally McIlmurray, just to name a few.

Classic horses such as Adios Harry, Duane Hanover, Dottie’s Pick, Diamond Hal, Galophone, Demon Rum, Jean Laird, Trader Horn, Darn Safe and Silver Song all competed there at the highest levels. 

In the 1980s, two major events happened there; one was good and one was really bad.

Niatross traveled West to leave his mark on the track in consecutive starts. On Nov. 16, 1980, he broke his own world record of 1.52.4 (over a mile track) that he set earlier in the year at Syracuse by winning the American Classic  in 1.52.1. He demolished the five-horse field by a gapping 10 lengths.

A week later  he raced there again, this time at a mile and an eighth and again broke a 16-year-old record of 2:09.1 set by True Duane, who had also set it at Hollywood Park.  Niatross walked away by six lengths in 2:07.3.

Two years after that, a legend met his demise in a terrible racing accident that no one will ever forget. On Aug. 27, 1982 while driving in a race, Shelly Goudreau  suffered fatal injuries when driving a $25,000 claimer named Regan's Lad. The driving bit broke in the first turn and Goudreau lost all control over his horse. He died six days later of severe head trauma.

So when the bulldozers knock down the final remains of the track that rose from a bean field  in California in 1938, the spirits of the latest ghost track will resonate with decades of harness history along with the memories of all the Thoroughbred greats from Seabiscuit to Zenyatta.

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Editor's Note: The views contained in this article are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.
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