If Life Is Sweet wins the 2009 renewal of the Hollywood Gold Cup this Saturday, the irony will be almost too much to bear. She will be facing a full field of eleven contenders in her first race against males, in what is surely to be the final running of the 70-year-old race. The Grade I $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup was inaugurated in 1938, and was won by a horse whose name is synonymous with California racing itself: Seabiscuit. The past winners of the Gold Cup are an illustrious list of names. While the Biscuit took the inaugural and catapulted into history, it belongs to many other legends of the track.
Citation made his career bow here, his Gold Cup victory cementing his name in history as the first Thoroughbred ever to win $1 million-dollars. Five years later Swaps, whose image in bronze greets visitors to the Club House, broke the stakes record by a full second in 1956. And who could forget the flashy Native Diver, the great ill-fated champion who won the race three years in a row? His remains rest at Hollywood Park in the Garden Paddock. The last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, became the first $2 million-dollar earner here when he won the Cup in 1979. Round Table, Ack Ack, Cigar, Skip Away, Real Quiet, Congaree all took home a Gold Cup from Hollywood. And Lava Man, in 2007, became the only other horse to equal Native Diver's record of three Gold Cup wins. These records will never be broken, but not for noble reasons.
The race isn't dying due to lack of popularity, but the grim fact that the historic Hollywood Park in Inglewood, California, will be no more once the winter meet ends. As a part of a major redevelopment plan in Inglewood, the race track is scheduled for demolition as a part of the city's proposed "Hollywood Park Tomorrow" plan. In plain English: a part of our heritage is being turned into a parking lot and shopping center, because God knows we need more of those.
Life is not so sweet for those in the racing industry right now, with tracks all across the country finding themselves scrambling to get out of bankruptcy and facing similar fates as Hollywood Park. It boggles the mind how a place once frequented by celebrity's elite, from Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor to Seabiscuit and Citation, can be tossed off as something disposable.
When Life Is Sweet takes on the boys this Saturday, she will try to become only the fourth filly in the Gold Cup's history to win the race. Her trainer, John Shirreffs, opted to race the four-year-old filly against a field of boys rather than pit her against the undefeated mare, Zenyatta, again. In her last outing, Life Is Sweet finished 1 ¾ lengths behind the champ in the Vanity Handicap, but was easily the only thing that day that had a chance in coming close to her. With Life Is Sweet's blazing late-closing kick, she stands a good chance at overcoming her competition.
Of the eleven entrants going against her, some of the more interesting contenders to look out for are Rail Trip, who won five races in a row before picking up two seconds; Parading, the lukewarm favorite, who has won three of his last four starts (the loss by a nose); Autism Awareness, a horse who likes to turn in surprise powerhouse performances when you least expect it, and Bullsbay, the Maryland shipper whose only time out of the money was a dead-heat placement for fourth in the Stephen Foster Handicap.
While none of the contenders hold the clout of the legends who have come before them in the Hollywood Gold Cup, the race itself should be interesting due to its lack of dominating champions. It's time for a new horse to step up to the challenge and carry on the legacy of those who have gone on to greater things. Will it be Life Is Sweet, setting out to do something her rival and stablemate, Zenyatta, has never accomplished, defeating the opposite sex? Or might it be Rail Trip, bouncing back to prove his worthiness of Grade I competition in the highest of California stakes races? Whomever shall take the 70th running of the Hollywood Gold Cup will taste history, for good and bad. Enjoy the memories.
The Grade I $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup will air live from Hollywood Park on TVG at approximately 4:39pm PT.