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Friday Night at the Races

How does Inglewood’s Hollywood Park, long a haunt of gamblers, gangstas and hucksters straight from central casting, pack in the “still have all their teeth” set? Promising $1 beers and hot dogs along with free concerts to complement the pounding hooves and high stakes certainly helps. And so the scene was set recently as Hollywood Park ripped and snorted into its summer season of Friday Night Racing, featuring an after-race show by locally loved homeboys Ozomatli. After interminable laps of one’s own jockeying to find parking, a near-impossible feat in the realm of the bordering lot, several hundred partiers in their late 20s filed to the box office to slap down a mere $7 to gain entry to a different world. The entry gates open up to the grass esplanade where awesomely powerful and equally beautiful steeds show their potential, accompanied by the wee little men who care for them. The stadium is studded with bookie-stuffed nooks and crannies. Inside, an ocean of humanity ebbs, flows, and stagnates in lines for overpriced grub, en route to the trackside stands. Balcony seating exists, though whoever seeks to be removed from the rowdy main floor belongs in the same category as people who choose to sit inside and watch the action on closed-caption TV. For those who don’t regularly hang out at the track, encountering those who do can be a shock. It is not uncommon to face a sea of icy stares, cold-blooded seniors, and even families with parents more concerned about telecast long shots than about their tiny children playing in the trash-strewn aisles. Still, the thrills of modern rock-hop and practically free brew had the place packed with the nightlife set, double-fisting buck Buds and plunking down small bets. Frantic shrieks and roars for chosen horses obscured the galloping of hooves, and each race’s electrifying mad dash seemed over in a minute. Pennies were made, small fortunes were lost, and once the action came to a halt, wild drumbeats drew the crowd outside. The 10-man multi-culti band Ozomatli segued rustily into their set, heavy with Tejano mash-ups of hip-hop, punk rock and reggae. Recognizing their lack of effect on the Hispanic-heavy crowd of hipsters, Ozo loosened themselves up with a freestyle sesh and, as promised, proceeded to tightly kick out the jams. As many lucky lost angels know, Ozo are a mean machine when they click, making heads bop and booties shake into impromptu salsas, skanks and shuffles. After a sizzling set that left even the leanest bodies ready for the glue factory, Ozo proceeded into the crowd for their ritual drum and horn jam, forcing the mass into a snaking human train chanting the band’s name in blissful post-drunk unison. Turning out yet another crowd of devotees and uninitiated, Ozo proved just why there ain’t no party like a West Coast party, uniting disparate races and making sure their message of peace was felt rather than heard.