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Hurled back
Monday, December 23, 2013 - by Frank Cotolo

Earlier in the year I wrote a generic blog about the demise of Hollywood Park. Now, on the weekend of the track’s actual closing, I realize that my personal mementos are indelible, mostly because they will always be sparked by names that won’t be eliminated with the brick-and-mortar that held the Inglewood, California track together.

It’s a swarm of characters, many still active in the sport, that always bring me back to my vagabond days of night harness racing, circa 1978 through the season in the ‘80s when Marjorie Everett was blamed for ending Standardbred activity there.

For instance, only moments ago my son asked me about Mario Baillargeon. “Has he always raced at Woodbine?” Ray said. I was suddenly back in the clubhouse at Hollywood where I remember seeing Mario hang out while racing stock there at least one season.

I also am hurled back to cool nights in November whenever I see or read about John Campbell. That is where I was introduced to the talents of John, whose history at Hollywood Park is overlooked when harness is recalled there.

If the name Hudon appears anywhere on a racing program, I know it only because of Hollywood Park, where Joe raced and brought home a big exacta for me in league with Rick Kuebler, who was a regular on the California circuit and is now retired but my friend on Facebook.

Playing at Pocono Downs means remembrances of Western Harness because there is Howard Parker motoring down the stretch with a pacer or a trotter. I am also traveling in time when I see trotters on the Grand Circuit steered by D.R. Ackerman and when I read and reviewed a book about Roger Stein.

Certainly, playing Cal Expo today results in flashes of huge miles raced by Gene Vallandingham, who is still active and successful in the western community of horsemen.

At the Harrisburg sale two years ago I stopped Ross Croghan to tell him I loved the arm move he always made near the finish line when driving to a win. I could see him in the haze of a smoggy evening in Los Angeles.

When I watch reruns of the hilarious sitcom “Car 54 Where Are You?” I remember hanging out near the winner’s circle with Al Lewis, who was brilliant as Leo Schnauzer, a cop in the series. As well, any rerun of TV’s “The Odd Couple” projects the memory of Jack Klugman dashing to a cashier’s window to get a bet in during the waning moments of betting on a race.

For me there are so many personal living memories of harness racing at Hollywood Park. I dare any of those bulldozers, on their way to destroy the joint, to make rubble of my remembrances. Long live Hollywood Park harness.

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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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