Oak Tree begins under the lights
Hollywood Park hosts a 22-day meeting, with Zenyatta the featured attraction.
Get ready for an experiment to see whether thoroughbred racing fans in Southern California are willing to come out in large numbers on a Thursday or Friday night over the next month to watch horse racing in the middle of football season.
“That’s the $64,000 question,” said Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of the Oak Tree Racing Assn.
The Oak Tree meeting begins Thursday at Hollywood Park with a 7:05 p.m. post time, one of six days of night racing during a 22-day program that ends on Oct. 31.
The highlight event should be on Saturday, when unbeaten Zenyatta races in the $250,000 Lady’s Secret Stakes in what is expected to be her final race in Southern California before she ends her career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 6 in Kentucky. The 6-year-old mare has won all 18 of her races.
“That’s going to be a great day,” Chillingworth said. “Zenyatta is a star.”
The Oak Tree meeting had been held since 1969 at Santa Anita, but lack of confidence among trainers and owners in the Arcadia track’s synthetic surface left Oak Tree with no other option than Hollywood Park.
Hollywood Park officials were the ones who suggested trying night racing during Oak Tree to improve on-track attendance, with the hope of attracting younger fans by holding concerts after the races and selling beer for $3 until 9 p.m. and hot dogs for $2. First up is the band Sugar Ray, to play after Thursday’s races at approximately 11p.m.
“Desperate times bring desperate measures,” trainer Ron Ellis said.
It’s not an ideal situation for horsemen, particularly on Oct. 21-22 and Oct. 28-29 when there will be consecutive nights of races scheduled. Trainers, jockeys, grooms and other track workers will be busy late into the night, then have to return early the next morning.
“We’ve got to do something,” Ellis said. “The business is not on the upswing and most people are for giving it a try and help improve attendance.”
In July, Hollywood Park drew 10,029 for a Thursday night race card that ended with the band Devo making an appearance.
Traditionalists don’t like night racing, but Ellis said, “Look at the Chicago Cubs. There was resistance they [fought] to having night games. But it works. You hate to lose tradition, but times change.”
Jockey Joe Talamo is ready to return to action after being sidelined because of a broken wrist during the Del Mar meeting.
“There were so many real good horses I’ve lost. Hopefully, I can get them back,” Talamo said.
Another jockey injured at Del Mar, Tyler Baze, will miss the opening week of Oak Tree as he continues his recovery from facial injuries, said his agent, Vic Stauffer.
Oak Tree will have 13 graded stakes, starting with Thursday’s Grade III $100,000 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap at six furlongs on the turf for older fillies and mares.
Saturday’s racing card, besides featuring Zenyatta in the Lady’s Secret Stakes, will include three other Grade I races — the $250,000 Goodwood Stakes, the $250,000 Norfolk Stakes and the $250,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes. And on Sunday, the Grade I $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes and the Grade I $250,000 Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship will take place.
General admission is $8, $10 for the clubhouse and $20 for the turf club.