The California Horse Racing Board deferred action Sept. 23 on its race dates calendar for 2011 as well as a waiver of state regulations requested by MI Developments to allow it to simultaneously operate Santa Anita Park, Golden Gate Fields and XpressBet.
Both matters will be brought back at the board's Oct. 14 meeting, presently scheduled at Santa Anita.
While indicating a reshaping of the California racing schedule is not likely this year, chairman Keith Brackpool said the industry should take some additional time to work out competing requests in Southern California for fall race dates held by the Oak Tree Racing Association since 1969.
Until this year, Oak Tree had run its six-week fall meet at Santa Anita. This year MID ended its lease with Oak Tree, then offered to host the association's meet in 2010. The CHRB, however, rejected the Oak Tree fall dates at Santa Anita because horsemen were concerned about the safety of the Santa Anita surface. The racing association then decided to move to Hollywood Park. Oak Tree seeks to maintain the dates, Sept. 28-Nov. 8, in 2011 at Hollywood Park, but Santa Anita Park also has requested to run those same six weeks.
Scott Daruty, an attorney for MID, said the desire to acquire the Oak Tree dates was in part a way to get the discussion going on long-range planning of the calendar. In particular, he said the future of racing at Hollywood Park needs to be addressed.
“We’re fully prepared to sit down and talk with Hollywood Park, with Oak Tree, with others in the industry, the horsemen, of course," Daruty said. “There needs to be an end game. Every year, we talk about whether Hollywood is going to be here or not and what we do if it’s not. We think the time has come to have this discussion and reach a conclusion."
There are issues, too, with the Northern California calendar involving an additional three-week meet at Alameda County Fair, whether to allow the Humboldt County Fair at Ferndale to race for one week without overlap with any other Northern California meet, and where to place the one-week San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton.
The 2011 calendars for Los Alamitos Racecourse and the Cal Expo harness season were approved.
On the MID common ownership waiver, a standoff between the board and the new track owners, which took control of Santa Anita, Golden Gate and XpressBet, as part of the reorganization plan for bankrupt Magna Entertainment Corp. April 30, appears on its way to finally being resolved. Provisions in the state business and professions code prevent an entity from owning more than one such racing interest "unless the board finds that the purpose of this chapter will be better served" otherwise.
“These negotiations started out months ago unnecessarily confrontational," Brackpool told representatives of MID. "Everybody up here (on the board) has been very pragmatic. You (MID) own these three assets—you’re not trying to buy them. We all want the sport to be successful and Santa Anita once again to be the Great Race Place.”
He directed CHRB staff and MID to work together to meet seven conditions before a permanent waiver would be approved. In the meantime, MID's operations—Los Angeles Turf Club, Pacific Racing Association and the advance wagering deposit company XpressBet—have licenses until Dec. 26.
Brackpool said he wanted financial reports from each track and racing association, appropriate financial guarantees, a plan for what happens in the event one of its entities is sold or closed, and a course for expansion of Santa Anita's television signal from its limited HRTV audience.
In addition, the chairman said there needs to be a final resolution of ongoing issues over payments to the state's off-track wagering corporations and others (a holdover from the MEC bankruptcy), guarantees for Santa Anita's new main track installation and maintenance, and a statement on Santa Anita's stabling plans when Hollywood Park is open.
“Those are going to be the conditions," Brackpool said. "We’ll work with you on those. In the meantime, you’re in compliance.”
In its argument for allowing it to operate more than one racing entity in the state, MID noted that the racing industry nationally is moving toward consolidation. It pointed to Betfair's acquisition of TVG, Churchill Downs Inc.'s recent purchase of YouBet in addition to its racetrack holdings, and the New York Racing Association's consideration of taking over the New York City OTB system.
"MID submits it would be injurious public policy for the CHRB to ignore the trend of consolidation, and prohibit joint ownership of racing assets in California, particularly under present economic circumstances where joint ownership results in significant benefits to the California racing industry," it said.
In other action, the board approved a license to operate the upcoming fall meeting at Hollywood Park (Nov. 3-Dec. 19) and the the license to operate a relocated simulcast wagering facility at the Fresno District Fair. It also authorized Kirk Breed, CHRB executive director, to pursue payment for critical board contractors such as stewards, veterinarians and other personnel while the ongoing budget impasse continues in Sacramento.