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"He may be looked upon as an outsider, but that's not a prime thing in his book," says Tom Gamel, a friend who is president of Timpte Industries, a manufacturer of truck trailers and bodies in Denver, and who shared Hubbard's vision of what needed to be done at Hollywood. "He wants to produce results, and then the respect will follow."
When Hubbard puts his mind to something, he can be a formidable opponent, as deposed Hollywood Park president Marje Everett learned. When she turned down Hubbard's written request for a seat on the track's board of directors in 1990—he felt she had snubbed him, actually, because she never even answered his letter—Hubbard became angry. Nobody snubs R.D. Hubbard. That began what turned into a nasty, expensive, highly publicized proxy fight that ended last February when Hollywood's stockholders tossed out Everett, who had run the track for 18 years, and installed Hubbard as her successor. "I never would have gotten into the proxy fight," he said, "if she had put me on the board."
But what offended Hubbard more than any personal slight—intentional or otherwise—was Everett's apparent unwillingness to listen to a new voice interested mainly in improving the track. Under Everett's tenure, Hollywood Park, once the showplace of California racing, had slipped and suffered badly when compared with Santa Anita, the exquisite track north of Los Angeles. Now Hollywood is undergoing the same kind of renaissance that Hubbard, old magic fingers himself, brought about at Ruidoso.
Although Everett says she's "not impressed at all" with what has happened to Hollywood under Hubbard, she's a minority of one. Thanks to a now nearly completed $18 million renovation plan, Hubbard has reversed the downward trend in attendance—the track's daily average of 20,306 during last summer's meet was up 11% from 1990—and has earned raves from horsemen, the media and, most important, the public.
Almost every racing official pays lip service to the notion of catering to the $2 bettor, but Hubbard is one of the few who have actually done it. An example: On one of his periodic walking trips around Hollywood Park, Hubbard was approached by Rene Romero, a veteran horseplayer. Romero suggested that it would be a good idea for the track to change its Pick Six (an exotic wager in which a bettor is required to pick the winners of six consecutive races) to the fourth through the ninth races, instead of the third through the eighth. "I told him," Romero told the Long Beach Press-Telegram, "how most of the serious players preferred it that way because it would give them an extra race to figure out the conditions of the track." A few weeks later, Hollywood changed the Pick Six to the fourth through ninth races.
"He certainly has brought a very innovative approach to racing," says James E. (Ted) Bassett III, president of the Breeders' Cup Limited. "It's not clear to the industry what his grand scheme is, but his track record indicates that he has one. He brings a refreshing point of view to the game."
Hubbard serves on the Breeders' Cup board of directors, along with some of the most influential horsemen in the nation, and he is already making thoroughbred leaders pay attention to concepts that were previously repugnant to them. Here are some of his ideas:
•Thoroughbred tracks must learn to make maximum use of their facilities, even if it means embracing other breeds and new ideas. Leading by example, Hubbard has announced plans to have a quarter-horse meeting next year at Hollywood Park, and he hopes to use part of the track's 300 acres for a golf driving range. As Bassett tactfully puts it, "Hubbard has a broader vision of racing than most racetrack operators."
•Track operators must follow the lead of the Las Vegas casinos by identifying their best patrons and rewarding them. At Hollywood Park, for example, Hubbard is thinking about giving premiums such as Laker tickets to his best customers.
•Tracks must become more affordable and more user-friendly. When Hollywood Park began intertrack wagering by opening its doors to bets on live racing at Santa Anita and other California tracks, Hubbard also introduced a one-stop-shopping concept in which a patron paid one fee for parking, admissions and a program.