Seabiscuit to California Chrome: Hollywood Park memories sparked by SoFi Super Bowl

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February 8th, 2022

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Although brand new SoFi Stadium is hosting its first Super Bowl, the site has long been a playing field for champions. The Inglewood, California, facility is built on the land made famous by Hollywood Park, the “Track of Lakes and Flowers” that showcased some of the greatest stars of American horse racing – and cinema.

Hollywood Park, fittingly, was established by movie moguls. Jack Warner spearheaded the effort to build the track, along with brother Harry, and the backing of a Hollywood “who’s who” including Bing Crosby (the co-founder of Del Mar) and Walt Disney. Renowned producer/director Mervyn LeRoy served as track president for decades.

Celebrities were frequently spotted at the racetrack, from Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, and Elizabeth Taylor to Betty Grable and Harry James, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Jack Klugman, Tim Conway, and John Forsythe.

RELATED: The Super Bowl and Horse Racing: Tidbits and Trivia

LeRoy’s role was honored by a valuable stakes race in his name. Other Hollywood fixtures alluded to the motion picture industry – the Premiere H., the opening-day feature on June 10, 1938; the Cinema H.; and the Silver Screen H. But the track’s signature event was the Hollywood Gold Cup, which would become North America’s richest race in its heyday.

Here are the greatest Thoroughbreds to win at Hollywood Park in its 75-year history:


Fan favorite Seabiscuit gave instant cachet to the Hollywood Gold Cup, toting top weight of 133 pounds to victory in its 1938 inaugural. Later that year, he would go on to upstage Triple Crown winner War Admiral in their storied match race at Pimlico. It’s only right that Seabiscuit’s heartwarming life story would be given the movie treatment, most recently in 2003.


The 1940 Hollywood Gold Cup starred two-time Horse of the Year Challedon. The pride of Maryland, who won the 1939 Preakness, beat older horses in major races that fall and enhanced his historical profile at four.

Hollywood might have attracted several other greats of this era, if not for World War II. The demands of wartime forced the track’s closure for a couple of years.

When Hollywood resumed racing in the fall of 1945, a starlet named Busher brightened the scene. Sporting the colors of Louis B. Mayer of MGM, she concluded her Horse of the Year campaign by taking the Hollywood Derby over males and the Vanity H.


Citation, the 1948 Triple Crown winner, scored in the 1951 Hollywood Gold Cup to become the first equine millionaire. The Calumet Farm legend was thereby achieving the long-held ambition of his late owner, Warren Wright. 

Sidelined by injury in 1949, Citation suffered a number of losses in his 1950 comeback season, most memorably at the hands of *Noor. European import *Noor went out on a high note in the 1950 Hollywood Gold Cup, toppling a deep cast including Hill Prince and Assault, the 1946 Triple Crown sweeper.

Swaps, the all-time great California-bred, was so sublime that Hollywood erected a statue of him at the clubhouse entrance. After beating Nashua in the 1955 Kentucky Derby, Swaps extended his winning skein back at Hollywood, but really gilded his legacy at the track in the summer of 1956. Blessed with the ability to carry his high speed as far as required, Swaps won five straight stakes, from a mile to 1 5/8 miles, four in world-record time. The brilliant chestnut settled for merely a new track record in the Hollywood Gold Cup, polishing off 1 1/4 miles in 1:58.60 under 130 pounds.

*Gallant Man and Round Table, two of the standouts on an all-star 1957 Triple Crown trail, added to their resumes at Hollywood.

Round Table, third in the Kentucky Derby that *Gallant Man lost in a sick heartbreaker, went on a winning streak including the 1957 Hollywood Gold Cup over older horses. He equaled the track record of Swaps, but carried a feathery 109 pounds as a sophomore. In his briefer sojourn at Hollywood the next summer, Round Table had to carry a lot more weight as a four-year-old, but still won the Argonaut H. under 132 pounds.

*Gallant Man, who gained some consolation for the Derby by crushing the 1957 Belmont, also achieved weight-carrying feats at Hollywood in the summer of 1958. After landing the Gold Cup under 130 pounds, *Gallant Man lugged 132 pounds successfully in the Sunset H.


Native Diver, the first Cal-bred to bankroll more than $1 million, also made history in the Hollywood Gold Cup. The first to win the marquee event twice, the prolific frontrunner then turned a Gold Cup three-peat in 1967. The popular gelding sadly succumbed to colic a couple of months later. Hollywood paid tribute to Native Diver by interring him at the track. His burial place has since been relocated to another scene of his triumphs, Del Mar.

Dr. Fager included Hollywood in his unprecedented 1968 campaign, when he ranked as Horse of the Year as well as champion in three different divisions – sprinter, handicap horse (now called older dirt male), and grass horse. In his lone appearance at the track, Dr. Fager dominated multiple champion mare Gamely in the Californian S. under 130 pounds.


Ack Ack advertised his exceptional versatility, and weight-carrying ability, at Hollywood in the summer of 1971. Racing for actress Greer Garson and her husband, Buddy Fogelson, Ack Ack won the 5 1/2-furlong Hollywood Express H., the 1 1/8-mile American H. in course-record time on turf, and the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup (under 134 pounds) back on the dirt. His exploits earned him champion sprinter and handicap horse honors as well as Horse of the Year.

Internationally celebrated turf mare Dahlia was in the twilight of her career by the time she made it to Hollywood in 1976. But she managed to recapture the glory one last time in the Hollywood Invitational H. (G1).

Although Affirmed is forever remembered for his epic Triple Crown sweep, he also left his mark at Hollywood. The gutsy chestnut was a perfect 4-0 over the track, spanning all three of his championship seasons. Affirmed romped in the 1977 Hollywood Juvenile Championship (G2), captured the Hollywood Derby (G1) (in its former guise on dirt) in his final prep for the 1978 Kentucky Derby, and garnered the 1979 Californian (G1) and Gold Cup (under 132 pounds). Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his Triple Crown predecessor, Seattle Slew, who suffered his first (and worst) loss in an ill-advised trip to Hollywood for the 1977 Swaps S. (G1).

Multiple European Group 1 star Exceller, who would beat both “Slew” and Affirmed in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, had proven equally at home on Hollywood’s dirt and turf that summer. After last-to-first heroics in the Hollywood Invitational on turf, Exceller rallied from 16 lengths behind to get up in time in the Gold Cup. Then he went back up to 1 1/2 miles on turf to add the Sunset H. (G1) under 130 pounds.


Spectacular Bid, arguably unlucky to be denied the 1979 Triple Crown, compiled a perfect 1980 campaign as an older horse. His swath of conquest passed through Hollywood’s Mervyn LeRoy H. (G2), where his 132-pound impost couldn’t dent a seven-length rout, and the Californian in a track-record 1:45.80 for 1 1/8 miles shouldering 130 pounds.

Rags-to-riches warrior John Henry amassed a portion of his $6.5 million earnings here, chiefly through his three victories in the Hollywood Invitational (1980-1, 1984), the 1983 Hollywood Turf Cup (G1) and American H. (G2), and the 1984 Sunset. While John Henry was effective on dirt, the Hollywood Gold Cup eluded him twice. He finished a nearer second in the 1984 running, the year he regained the Horse of the Year crown at the ripe old age of nine. Injury prevented John Henry from contesting the inaugural Breeders’ Cup at Hollywood that fall, when the great All Along was foiled in the Turf (G1) but another outstanding filly, Princess Rooney, ran away with the Distaff (G1).

Two great turfistes impressed in their lone appearance at Hollywood. Manila broke through with his first stakes win in the 1986 Cinema H. (G2), launching a nine-race winning streak that would include the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita. In 1987, French superstar Miesque won the first of her two Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) trophies, blitzing in a Hollywood course-record 1:32.80. That same 1987 Breeders’ Cup climaxed in the Classic (G1), with Ferdinand just lasting from Alysheba in a photo-finish between Kentucky Derby winners.


Sunday Silence suffered a couple of high-profile reverses at Hollywood, but the 1989 Kentucky Derby and Preakness champion first burst onto the scene with a 10-length maiden romp here as a juvenile. The $4.9 million-earner and future supersire also wired the 1990 Californian in his four-year-old bow.

Another influential patriarch, A.P. Indy, likewise signaled his classic potential as a two-year-old at this track. The 1991 Hollywood Futurity (G1) hero would miss the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, but went on to triumph in the Belmont.

The “unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar” made the 1995 Hollywood Gold Cup part of his 16-race winning skein on the way to nearly $10 million in earnings. The redoubtable $9.6 million-earner Skip Away won both of his local appearances, the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Classic by six lengths and the 1998 Gold Cup.


Tiznow emerged as a late-developing sophomore at Hollywood in the summer of 2000. At that time, few could have predicted that the Cal-bred would become the only two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner with more than $6.4 million in his account.

Azeri was unbeaten in her Hollywood appearances, including back-to-back wins in the Vanity H. (G1) under 125 and 127 pounds, respectively, in 2002-03. A few years later, the Hollywood main track was converted from dirt to synthetic, and Azeri found her own record surpassed by an even more imposing distaffer.

Zenyatta outstripped Azeri with a three-peat in the Vanity (2008-10), toting 129 pounds in the last two. She further one-upped Azeri by winning not only the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but also by defeating males in the 2009 Classic (both at Santa Anita). Staying perfect through her first 19 starts, the high-stepping Amazon earned in excess of $7.4 million.

Lava Man’s career spans Hollywood’s surface transition. When this Cal-bred gelding emulated Native Diver’s three-peat in the Gold Cup, he had to follow up his dirt wins in 2005-06 with a hard-fought score on synthetic in 2007. Lava Man, famously claimed for $50,000, retired with more than $5.2 million in the bank. But he still loves hanging around the track as a stable pony.


The final season at Hollywood witnessed dynamic victories by a pair of juveniles, once and future champions. Shared Belief propelled himself to champion two-year-old male honors by romping in the Hollywood Prevue (G3) and CashCall Futurity. While Shared Belief ultimately missed the classics due to injury, another would pick up the baton.

The impressive winner of the King Glorious S. for Cal-breds on Hollywood’s last night, Dec. 22, was a certain flashy chestnut named California Chrome. Hero of the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, as well as the 2016 Dubai World Cup (G1), “Chrome” attracted legions of fans along with two Horse of the Year titles and $14.7 million.

You might call it a Hollywood ending.

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