Los Angeles: Dusk Till Dawn
24 Hour Diner | Bicycle Kitchen | Club Hwood | Crime Scene | Flower Market | Food Trucks | Ghost Hunters
Hollywood Park | Night at the Museum | Night Golf | Night Productions | Santa Monica Pier | Starry Night | Wig Out
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A (Night) at the Races:
        At Hollywood Park, an escape to reality

The Revelers | The track is a complex social space in the eyes of a birthday girl.

Horse race scenes from cinema:

Club HWood
Hollywood is not really a geographic designation. It’s more of a vibe.
Night at the Museum
An energetic crowd starts the night sharing music and drinks with the stuffed animal and fossilized residents of the Natural History Museum.
Bicycle Kitchen
The bicycle culture is a growing trend to some. To those at the Bicycle Kitchen, it is a rare opportunity to discover cohesion and a new perspective of the city.

Horses aren't the only animals on display at the Hollywood Park racetrack.  The venue is a melting pot for Angelenos, a place to make some bets, drink some beer and find camaraderie in the pursuit of Lady Luck.

By Julia James

Gambling, whether at the casino, the lottery or the racetrack, is conventionally cast as an escape, the pastime of the lazy and the desperate for whom the real world hasn’t panned out.  The circus songs of the slot machines, the video-game aesthetics of the Keno board, the sherbet rainbow of jockey jerseys—we recognize them as the careful window dressings of an industry that feeds on fantasy, on the illusion of luck.

But within the world of gambling, horse racing is something of a sophisticate.  From the Rogers and Hammerstein musical “My Fair Lady,” in which Eliza Doolittle commits her famous faux pas (“Come on Dover, move your bloomin’ arse!”) to the 1970s classic “The Sting,” the track is played as a place where brains, grace and social status are as much on the line as the stallions themselves. 

For the 30-somethings who flock to Inglewood’s Hollywood Park for a night of beer and bets, horse racing is not about escaping reality; it’s about escaping to it, from the illusion that is Los Angeles. 

“What I enjoy is going down on the floor ‘amongst the people,’” says Andy Bandit, director of clip licensing at Twentieth Century Fox, who headed to the track on opening weekend to celebrate the birthday of a friend. 

“The people” at Hollywood Park is an eclectic bunch, from the first timers to the equestrian insiders to the serial dabblers to the 40-year veterans of the track. 

But it’s not just the mix of people that distinguishes the track from the casino and the gas station Lotto vender, says Tom Quigley, owner of HorsePlayer Magazine; it’s the beauty of the animals and the opportunity to exercise real strategy.

“Unlike going to Las Vegas where the odds are predictable and stacked against you…at the horse races the odds are determined by the way people are betting,” Quigley says.  “There’s an old saying, ‘You can’t beat the races but you can beat a race.’  And that’s kind of what you have to do: You have to pick and choose your spots and find that one scenario where the public is betting wrong and try and take advantage of that.”

Bandit sees a similar sophistication bump from the casino to the track, but to him, the economics are simpler.

“You can go to the races and just put, like, $2 down on a horse because you like its name.  And if it wins, it wins and that’s great.  And if it loses, who cares?”

Of course, real money is made—and lost—at Hollywood Park.  And beneath the bright call of the bugle and the cheery haggling over the price of beers, the cynical might find cause for pause—that betting on horses is permanent employment for some; that for others, the track seems to be a sort of tourist destination, an object of fascination (or worse, pity) but not a place or a neighborhood where they’d want to spend much time.  And, of course, there’s that adjacent casino…

Bandit sees it differently.

Enjoying the mix “is not a racial thing or an economic thing… It’s just simply, this is to me a group of people who enjoy being at the races together and all sharing the common interest of rooting on your horse to win.”

“To me, it’s as simple as that,” he says.  “Everybody there is there because they like the idea of rooting on a favorite.”

When the gates fly open, the hooves pound the sod, the crowd’s cheer swells and the caller chants—“Skippy Skipper to the inside!”—Bandit’s is an easy case to buy.  For a minute, at least, it’s all in search of Lady Luck.

The Expert
"Horses can talk to you with their body language...I actually tweet who I like from a physicality standpoint to 635 of my followers."

The Amateurs
"Once I win, then I'll have a couple hundred dollars to use and go from there...Blow at the casino? Yeah, maybe."

The stories: 24 Hour Diner | Bicycle Kitchen | Club Hwood | Crime Scene | Flower Market | Food Trucks | Ghost Hunters
Hollywood Park | Night at the Museum | Night Golf | Night Productions | Santa Monica Pier | Starry Night | Wig Out

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Background photo by MikeFinkelstein