While most sporting eyes will be turned toward baseball's World Series this week, the world of horse racing will be converging on Santa Anita Park with the kind of glitz it hasn't witnessed in years.
The 25th anniversary of the Breeders' Cup considered the equine equivalent of the World Series is being held at the historic track and organizers are making the most of it.
Arab Sheikhs, European royalty and wealthy entrepreneurs from around the world are heading to the Arcadia race track, where purses for the 14-race, two-day event will total a record $25.5 million.
There they will be met by Hollywood stars such as Dennis Hopper and Kurt Russell, while Arnold Schwarzenegger will be the first governor to hand out the $5 million top trophy more than double the purse of the Kentucky Derby.
Even luxury retailers such as Bulgari on Rodeo Drive are trying to get a share of the $100 million that wealthy horse owners and racing fans are expected to drop while in Los Angeles for the cup, which starts Friday. Bulgari has designed limited edition watches specifically for each race winner's owner.
And for once, a ticket to the 26,000 seat track is hot. General admission seats go for just $20, but top finish-line seats sell for $1,200 and are being resold online for $2,500 a pop.
"We are competing with Major League Baseball, the NBA and college football and by embracing Hollywood we get our event out front of people who may not know how exciting and beautiful horse racing can be," said Terry Finley, founder and president of New Jersey-based West Point Thoroughbreds, which is entering two horses into the races.
Horse racing and Hollywood were once joined at the hip, with stars such as Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney and Betty Grable regularly seen at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. In fact, Hollywood Park was founded in the 1930s by Jack Warner, founder of Warner Bros. Studios.
However, as other sports grew and gaming options multiplied, tracks lost much of their glamour, and later much of their crowds. Today there is Las Vegas, Indian casinos, off-track betting, and, now, Internet gaming.
The situation got so dire that in 2004 Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and other tracks sought approval from California voters to install slot machines, but opposition financed by Indian casinos killed the measure. Now, Santa Anita, one of the nation's premier tracks, is working with developer Rick Caruso to build a luxury mixed-use development on its vast but often empty parking lot.
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