This is the year for the Californians: for Silver Spoon and Bug Brush; for Tomy Lee and Royal Orbit; for Hillsdale and Round Table; for Willie the Shoe. And, on the evening of July 22 when the figures are tabulated at Hollywood Park in Ingle-wood, this track, which eastern critics once considered merely a hopeless interloper in Thoroughbred racing, will have led all U.S. racing in attendance for eight of the last nine years.
Starting this Saturday with the running of the $135,000 Gold Cup, Hollywood ends its 20th racing season by distributing $420,000 in stakes money in a period of only nine racing days. Not only has Hollywood Park managed to lure some of the most powerful racing stables out of the East in the past few years but it has become a shining example of top-drawer racetrack management in the U.S. and, for that matter, anywhere in the world.
Nostalgic oldtimers often bemoan the fact that racing has lost a lot of the sporting element which was once such a vital part of its character, but it must be remembered that the millions of dollars passing through the mutuel machines each day have turned racing into big business.
To illustrate this point the nearly 1,900 men and women pictured on the following two pages posed for the first group photograph ever taken at a major track. These people take their orders from a 54-year-old, wavy-gray-haired man named James D. Stewart. Since becoming top man at Hollywood in 1953, he has labored under an assortment of titles including vice-president, general manager and director of racing. He also served a two-year hitch as the best president the Thoroughbred Racing Association ever had. While the 1,900 employees (plus another 300 whose official duties kept them out of this picture) will always regard Stewart as a pleasant fellow to work for, there is equally sincere admiration for him among top racing executives at other tracks and throughout all the ranks of owners, trainers, jockeys and stable hands. In fact, today James D. Stewart would be an almost unanimous choice as America's leading race-track manager. For he is the personification of the southern California approach to racing, in which the customer comes first and the sport as a whole is viewed as a form of entertainment which a great number of people can gain pleasure from. In the quarter of a century since Santa Anita opened its gates to a skeptical public, enterprising Californians have taken enormous strides. They have made the deluxe routine instead of the exception and have improved the quality of horses, both homebreds and those purchased out of state or abroad. This year California-based horses won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness; in fact, four of the first six Derby finishers came from there.
The key to the whole southern California approach is that racing has gained the respect—and therefore the support—of the southern California community. Last year, for example, the seven Los Angeles businessmen who serve on the Hollywood Turf Club Associated Charities, Inc. distributed $554,615 to local and national charity funds, and the race track is so solidly behind the gesture that they turn over all profits from their entire final week of racing to charity. Hollywood Park's own board of directors, headed by Movie Producer Mervyn LeRoy, contains an impressive list of other business names, among them Terrell C. Drinkwater, president of Western Air Lines, and Donald W. Douglas Jr., president of Douglas Aircraft Company.
THE FRIENDLY SPIRIT
Jim Stewart's typical working day involves 12 hours of decision-making, public-relations work and far more personal contact with his employees than any other general manager I have ever seen. He starts with a 6 o'clock call at his Palos Verdes ocean-front house. After a half-hour drive to the track, Stewart checks in at the stable area about 7:30. He climbs aboard his 18-year-old gray Thoroughbred, Burley, for a ride through the area and chats with anyone who wants to talk. "One of the most important things about race-track management," said Stewart the other morning as we rode out from the racing secretary's office toward the main track, "is always to remember that public relations begins at home. If you have esprit de corps among the people working at a track, that friendly spirit must rub off on the customers."
As Stewart rode around the track, pausing now and then to observe the maintenance crew operating its harrows and water trucks, he spoke some more about his job. "Always keep in mind," he said, "that it takes more than a good plant to make a successful operation. You have to have an attraction and then put it over with a show that maintains a high degree of taste and dignity." Stewart reined up to a walk by the clubhouse to watch a garbage detail at work and then proceeded. "I believe final authority must go to one person because in the end only one person can really be responsible to his board of directors, who in turn have a strong responsibility to the track's shareholders."
Through the rest of the morning Jim Stewart marched briskly along on his rounds, greeting at every turn someone whose name he may not have known but whose job he most certainly did know. First a drop-in at the print shop to make sure a certain program change had been made. Then a look in the wardrobe room, where hundreds of uniforms for ushers and special track police—uniforms paid for by the track and cleaned at the track's expense—were awaiting the day's first morning shift. In the Operations Department Stewart authorized the requisitioning of a new $8,000 air-conditioning unit, and just down the hall dropped in to see the track's special police officers, including agents of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau. "We're having trouble," said one agent, "with kids coming in after the seventh race unaccompanied by adults."
"We're also having trouble," interrupted Stewart, "with kids who are already inside with their parents but who break away and annoy others. You better tell the ushers to watch for this, and tonight stick a few extra guards on the gates—even if it means paying them overtime-so we can check this late-crashing stuff."