For a community
of only 95,000, Inglewood, Calif. is richly blessed in sports. It is the home
of a racetrack that leads the nation in average daily attendance, Hollywood
Park. Hollywood proper is 22 miles away, but the name seems a better bet to the
track operators than, say, Inglewood Downs.
has big-league franchises in pro basketball and hockey, though both are named
" Los Angeles." The city does have a cemetery called Inglewood Park, but
the odds are the name will one day be changed to " Beverly Hills."
If sports have
brought excitement to Inglewood, they also have brought heartburn. The town
finds itself in the middle of a big commotion it did not invite. For the last
year, Thoroughbred owners, trainers and breeders have been embroiled in a
snarling fight with Hollywood Park and its lessee, Western Harness Racing
Association. The argument recently went to the polls, and the next stop could
be the grand jury. In connection with it are lawsuits totaling $7 million.
Jack Kent Cooke,
owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings, whose home, The Forum, lies adjacent
to the racetrack, fought for awhile as a confederate of the Thoroughbred
horsemen. Today he not only has left them but has joined the other side.
"In this war," says one Thoroughbred owner, " Cooke represents the
casus belli was the decision of Hollywood Park last year to permit night
harness racing on its grounds. The track's motive was ill-disguised: for 78
nights of trotting, not concurrent with flat racing, Hollywood Park's rental
could be as high as $1 million a year. Thoroughbred horsemen contend that
Hollywood Park has betrayed them. By opening its plant to the sulkies at night,
the track, they say, is selling out the Thoroughbreds and jeopardizing the $250
million breeding industry in California. They argue that night trotting is a
threat to the flat racers, has no business at a major Thoroughbred track and
that Hollywood Park, a longtime opponent of night racing, had promised to
reject such activity at its plant.
for this "betrayal" the Thoroughbred horsemen have formed an
association called Oak Tree and will run a 20-day daytime Thoroughbred meeting
during the fall at Santa Anita in competition with the trotters at Hollywood.
They had no trouble renting the grounds from Santa Anita officials, who once
had formed an alliance with Hollywood Park to resist night harness racing. The
two leased their facilities to Western Harness for daytime trotting, sharing
the rent equally. Now, Hollywood not only has made a deal for night trotting
but is keeping all the rent. Santa Anita stockholders are upset.
"defamatory" comments on the part of the Thoroughbred horsemen,
Hollywood Park has brought suit for $3.1 million against six of their leaders.
Charging "conspiracy," Western Harness has sued the same group for $3.9
million. Until 1967, racing after sunset was illegal in California. For more
than 20 years Western Harness operated during the day, hoping all along to
promote legislation permitting the sport at night. Observing the population
growth of horseplaying Los Angeles County, the sulky operators envisioned
nightly handles as high as $3 million. Toward that happy eventuality they
purchased 300 acres near a suburb of Los Angeles called La Puente, planning to
build a modern 5/8ths-of-a-mile track.
What the trotting
people didn't reckon with was the extent of Thoroughbred power, a pervading
presence at the capital in Sacramento. Hollywood Park and Santa Anita stood
firmly opposed to night racing and as time went on they gathered as allies the
Los Angeles Dodgers, California Angels, San Francisco Giants and Jack Kent
Cooke, along with theater owners and bowling alley proprietors. All contributed
money to the fight. Walter O'Malley recalls that Hollywood Park was the
"spiritual leader" of the group. "It used to call the
meetings," he says.
In 1963, Jim
Stewart, general manager of Hollywood, testified before the State Assembly
Efficiency Committee in Sacramento against an amendment that would legalize
night racing. In 1967 at a stockholders' meeting he remarked that Inglewood did
not want night racing and that any attempt to stage it at Hollywood Park would
seriously jeopardize the track's zoning variance and the continuance of
When Jack Kent
Cooke chose the Inglewood location for his $16 million Forum, he said he had
the assurance of Inglewood city officials and Hollywood Park that night racing
would not be allowed next door. "I would have been insane," said Cooke,
"to build there without the guarantee that we could operate free of night
confusion at Hollywood Park."