The American Association of Equine Sports Preservation (AAESP) and its allies in the U.S. horse racing industry, including legendary horse trainer Jack Van Berg, famed “horse whisperer” Monty Roberts, television personality and jockey Chantal Sutherland, trainers Tom Proctor and Doug O’Neill, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, and prominent California residents and horse fans worldwide, are requesting help from California Governor Jerry Brown to keep Hollywood Park Racetrack in Inglewood, California, open as a world-class entertainment complex, international horse training park and premier center for horse wellness programs benefiting U.S. military veterans and children with autism and special needs.
The racetrack held its final race on Dec. 22, 2013, and stops all training on the track in January 2014.
“We would like to join forces with you to help showcase California’s entertainment industry while continuing to provide billions of dollars in tax revenue to the state and providing much-needed jobs,” stated Allison Booth, president and founder of AAESP, in a Jan. 3, 2014, letter to Governor Brown. “Saving Hollywood Park would be a tremendous boost for California’s economy, especially for Inglewood, CA, which has a 13.5% unemployment rate. We feel Hollywood Park could indeed be preserved, as well as support a new string of restaurants, retail shops, and an entertainment center to feature Broadway shows from New York and other cities--becoming a ‘Madison Square Garden of the West.’ Hollywood Park is also suited to host a state-of-the-art sports stadium for a Los Angeles NFL team while also addressing some of our society’s great challenges.”
In 1991, the track underwent a $20-million reconstruction project, which included the construction of six handicapped-equipped barns. In all, there are 18 barns with 1,950 stalls, 619 tack rooms, and 216 feed rooms. In 2006, a new cushion track racing surface was installed, making the track soft and safe for horses. Hollywood Park is also the state’s most centrally located track, located just minutes from downtown Los Angeles, Los Angeles International Airport, beach cities and three major highways.
Booth said the AAESP proposes the creation of public-private partnerships to support the funding of military wellness programs, as well as the construction of a world-class entertainment facility.
“We as an industry fully embrace the opportunity to lend our expertise and other resources to support programs that help humans heal while giving retired racing horses (and their owners) new careers,” she wrote, noting that approximately 20% of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTSD, and suicide among veterans now averages at one every hour, accounting for 20% of all U.S. suicides.
Science proves that interacting with horses can be an effective method to help people heal from trauma. Veterans with PTSD often do not get the proper treatment due to budget cuts and general misunderstandings about the condition. However, programs by famed “horse whisperer” Monty Roberts and others have proven to be particularly effective for military veterans and others suffering from psychological or physical trauma.
A documentary called “Horse Sense and Soldiers” produced by the Military Channel recently highlighted Robert’s program and its healing abilities. Another program recently featured on Horse TV called Saratoga WarHorse in New York has created a unique three-day program that pairs retired racehorses and veterans suffering from war trauma and depression. Both programs have won many national accolades and the support of AAESP.
Booth also requested a meeting with Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), who represents Hollywood Park in the state’s 43rd congressional district, to brief her on the issue. Booth called upon Waters to hold a series of public hearings to discuss other uses for the track, which has the ideal infrastructure to support the proposed conversion.
Booth said a new law that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, would give Hollywood Park Casino a three-year extension. Booth, the chief organizer of the meetings, said she and her allies do not want Hollywood Park to suffer the same plight as Bay Meadows Park, which was demolished and sat empty for five years, losing millions in revenue to the state of California.
“When developers destroyed Bay Meadows and extinguished its 74-year history, they made promises of development that, with the exception of a few custom-built homes, have not materialized,: she wrote. “What stands is a devastating reminder of lost history, lost jobs, and millions of dollars in lost tax revenue to the city and state.”
Booth is currently leading a major petition drive to save Hollywood Park. The petition has received support from many influential figures in the horse racing industry. AAESP also made a splash at Hollywood Park’s final track meet on Dec. 22, 2013, and at the Breeder’s Cup World Championships in early November, gathering signatures from famed trainers, jockeys and owners for the petition. AAESP also had a major presence at The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Annual Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in early December. Guests at the convention included veterinarians, AAEP officers, board members and honorees, horse owners, exhibitors, education partners and friends of the AAEP Foundation.
Said Booth, “Hollywood Park is an iconic racing park that is uniquely positioned to meet the training needs of international horse trainers while becoming a model for the nation in providing healing for our military veterans. It also would make the perfect home for a professional football team, which Los Angeles deserves, and has what it takes to become a world-class and glamorous entertainment center, drawing New York Broadway shows to the West Coast.”
Booth said Hollywood Park also houses a flock of rare pink flamingos that originate from “The Breeder’s Flock” in Hialeah, Florida, which is the only fertile flock of flamingos in the U.S.
“We are also working to preserve the wildlife sanctuary on the infield of the park,” said Booth. “Last month, all but two flamingos were captured and removed from the park. We are encouraging Audubon members to get involved to protect these magnificent wild fragile creatures.”
Booth has nearly 3,000 signatures for her petition to save Hollywood Park. She hopes to have 10,000 signatures by early March 2014 to list the park as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Booth noted that the first ever Breeder’s Cup was held at the track in 1984 and many of America’s greatest horses, trainers, and owners lived and raced at the park, including Seabiscuit and more recently, Zenyatta, Horse of the Year 2010.
To sign the petition go to http://bit.ly/SaveHollywoodPark.
“I look forward to working with the state’s top political, business and horse industry leaders to achieve our ultimate goals of providing jobs for people and horses, while helping military veterans, children with autism, and others, get healthy through the magical healing power of horses,” said Booth.
The mission of AAESP is to protect the historical, cultural and economic value of equestrian sports, and related industries, throughout the world in recognition of the innumerable contributions of horses to mankind over centuries. Learn more at aaesp.org.