While opening day at Hollywood Park doesn't attract the massive crowds like other race tracks in Southern California and around the country, there was some added intrigue on Wednesday with the presence of Jim Rome, who is one of the most recognized and well-respected sports broadcasters in the nation.
Along with his wife Janet, they comprise Jungle Racing LLC, who started Surfer Girl (pictured) in the fifth race, a six furlong allowance event on the turf for fillies and mares three-years old and upward.
After knocking out both his radio and TV show, where he pleaded with the weather gods to keep the rain away, Rome raced up the 405, arriving at Hollywood Park about 30 minutes before the start of the race.
“I want to tell you best day ever, but check back with me in about a half hour,” Rome said before the race. “So far so good though.”
However, for the fourth consecutive start since coming to the U.S. from Brazil, Surfer Girl was unable to put her connections in the winner’s circle. After sitting in sixth place for the first half of the race, she closed with a rush to finish second, just over a length behind the winner Brookie Girl.
“Surfer Girl's second still stings,” @jimrome Tweeted after the race. “Thoroughbred racing is the biggest kick in the a** and punch in the mouth I know. Every time out.”
The Rome’s have experienced some success in their first couple of years as horse owners. As part of the racing partnership Little Red Feather Racing, their Hot N’Dusty showed the heart of a warrior in reeling off an impressive campaign in 2009.
“The highs are high and the lows are really low, but I still love it,” said Rome, who hosts both The Jim Rome Show, a nationally syndicated radio program, and Jim Rome is Burning, a sports talk show that airs daily on ESPN. “It’s a man’s game. It’s a nasty game. You gotta ride the thing out.”
With the sport of horse racing struggling for mainstream relevance, it's monumental for the sport itself to have such a respected and publicized journalist become its biggest fan.
“The tough thing about the sport … I didn’t get it at first. I thought it was just a bet,” said Rome.
“I didn’t understand the sport. I didn’t understand the personalities. Until you can identify with the horses and the rivalries and treat it like any other sport, people will never get it. You got to find a way to get people to the track and get to know everybody involved.”
The opening race of the meet featured two-year olds going four and a half furlongs. Trainer Mike Harrington, well-known for having success with young horses, had two entrants in the race, both sired by Swiss Yodeler.
“I think they’ll run well,” Harrington said regarding Edgewick Road and Norman Conqueror, who drew the two inside posts. “I think this is a fairly nice crop (for Swiss Yodeler), comparable to crops we’ve had in the past. He’s still doing well. All of the stallions in California are basically hurting, except one or two. But, he’s still getting a reasonable number of mares.”
However, it was Belleofthebridle, the lone filly in the field, who romped home to win by nearly six lengths. Trained by Walther Solis and ridden by David Flores, Belleofthebridle stopped the clock in a blistering 51.59 seconds and has a bright future.
Harrington’s horses rallied to finish third and fourth, after they were both at the back of the pack early in the race, and will surely improve in their next race.
“We have a pretty intricate program how we bring them along,” said Harrington. “One thing that helps is that at Hollywood you can get a lot of stalls for two-year olds. You don’t have to be in a hurry fighting for stall pace. You can bring them along at whatever pace you want to bring them.”
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of talk over the past couple of years of Hollywood Park potentially being torn down to develop residences and commercial space.
“It’s obviously meant a lot. It’s our home base,” said Harrington. “I would hope it’s going to be around, but unless somebody else takes over the management it doesn’t look like there’s much future for it.”
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