BHP Memories: Fathers and Sons By Rich Perloff

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It’s something I think we pretty much take for granted. I’ve spoken to hundreds of horseplayers and racegoers over the years, and, when the conversation comes around to “my first time,” the common denominator never changes. Most fans attended the races for the first time with a parent, and, far more often than not, with their father. So it was with me, at Hollywood Park, way back in the early 1970s. And, as we we draw ever nearer to a day many of us thought -- hoped, perhaps -- would never come, the day after which Hollywood Park will close its gates forever, I realize how much my memories of the track are bound up with memories of my dad. Let me introduce you to him. My dad grew up during the Great Depression. And, like so many men and women who came of age during that time of hardship and deprivation, he was frugal in the extreme. The occasional gamble at the track was one of the rare indulgences he permitted himself. I was just a kid when my dad first took me racing; not yet big enough to fool even the most myopic parimutuel teller. My dad would bet for me...and he’d bankroll me. He’d go for his wallet as we walked across the Hollywood Park lot towards the turnstiles, and he’d hand me a twenty. The deal was always the same: “If you make a few bucks, you’ll give me the twenty back. If not...” There was never any consequence if I blew the twenty. But...oh MAN, how I loved the feeling of being able to hand that money back to him at the end of the day, and still have a few bucks in my pocket! My dad was a pretty decent handicapper, but never a big bettor...except on those occasions when the great Charlie Whittingham would send one of his monsters to the track. Those were the days when ACK ACK and COUGAR II dominated the older male division hereabouts. On those days, my dad’s step would quicken a bit. We’d make a little detour on our way to Inglewood. We’d stop by his office, and he’d open up his floor safe, extracting a couple of hundred bucks. Two hundred to win; that was his “max” bet when he thought he had a “cinch.” Odds-on favorites, for sure, but...it was always an event, and I want to say that he cashed those bets way more often than not. Other times, we’d watch “The White Tornado,” VIGORS, mowing down a field from the back of the pack. We stood in an enormous crowd to see J.O. TOBIN take down the (formerly) invincible SEATTLE SLEW. The years passed. My teens gave way to my twenties, and suddenly there were more adult frictions between me and my dad. I went away to school. I started working, and spent even more time away from Los Angeles. But, when I came through town, we always found the time to take a run out to Hollywood Park. Whatever else existed between us, we could always enjoy a day at the races together. We sailed through the 80s that way, watching the likes of JOHN HENRY, SPECTACULAR BID, and ROYAL HEROINE...and delighting to the exploits of Pincay, Shoemaker, Hawley, McHargue, Toro, etc. My dad and I sat together under a clear blue Fall sky on November 10, 1984, as Hollywood Park hosted the first-ever Breeders’ Cup. In the 1990s, my dad’s health started to fail. First, there was the bypass surgery...complicated by the fact that he was suffering with diabetes. The same diabetes that would ultimately claim one of his legs below the knee. He did his physical therapy with stoic determination. They gave him a gleaming red titanium prosthetic leg. He could still make it across the parking lot, but we needed to allow lots of time for the journey. He resisted the wheelchair very hard, but he finally relented, and let me wheel him from the car to the track. For all of the logistical challenges, we rarely missed a weekend, and watched BEST PAL, FREE HOUSE, and REAL QUIET, among many, many others. He didn’t have a lot of energy during that last stretch; he nodded off a lot. It was okay. He’d earned the rest, and he napped quite comfortably with his Racing Form and a couple of pari-mutuel tickets spread out in front of him. He started out running bets for me; now, I was happy to return the favor. I’m afraid this all sounds a bit tragic. I don’t mean it that way. I mean to tell you that Hollywood Park was the backdrop for much of what was best between me and my dad. My memories of Hollywood Park are memories of my father. So many, many memories... I remember him buying us a Daily Racing Form on that first visit...just because he thought it was what we were supposed to do. Neither one of us could make heads or tails of it. I remember how, during the early days, when he knew that I’d already blown through my $20.00, he’d double up on one of his own plays, and slip me the ticket before the race. It was better if we both had a little action. I remember the two of us standing in line for one of those terrific carved sandwiches; a day at the track wasn’t complete for either of us without one. I remember all of the crass jokes we managed to fire off between us, back in the days when Hollywood Park still had a “Goose Girl” floating around on the infield lake. I remember how thrilled we all were the day that the horse my dad co-owned with a couple of his friends -- BROGO was his name -- ran for the first time. We all had money on him. He popped (briefly) and stopped (badly), but, for that first quarter mile...! I remember my dad chatting amiably with some of my best friends -- and even helping them with some handicapping tips -- when I had my bachelor party at the track. I could go on forever. There are a LOT of memories. On December 22, Hollywood Park will become like the Guy Pearce character from the movie “Memento;” forever incapable of creating new memories. I’m okay with that. I’ve got plenty of memories to last me. I’ll never forget. I could just as easily forget my own father.

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