When Magna Entertainment recently announced it would rather not have the 2002 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita because of a conflict with construction, president Jim McAlpine seemed genuinely surprised that it was news to anyone.
"It has always been an issue," McAlpine said. "One of the things that has been on the drawing board for some time is the construction and our improvements at Santa Anita."
The announcement was news, however, to the Oak Tree Racing Association, which controls the fall dates run at Santa Anita and was expecting to host its third Breeders' Cup in 2002.
"They said they wanted it for 2003," said a frustrated Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of Oak Tree Racing Association. "This is twice we've been through this."
No official action has been taken by Breeders' Cup, yet.
"We have received no official advisory from Oak Tree or Magna that would inhibit our plans for 2002," said Damon Thayer, director of marketing for Breeders' Cup. "We have been moving forward on a contract with Oak Tree." Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
In 1999, Oak Tree lost its chance to host the 2000 Breeders' Cup because Magna made plans to renovate the grandstand, remodel the clubhouse, turf and dirt course renovations, and new barns. That year Magna Entertainment founder and chairman Frank Stronach told The Blood-Horse he wanted the Breeders' Cup in 2002.
"I was quite clear in what I said to Oak Tree and Van Clief: 'Look, we're not going to be finished until close to 2001. I would like to have it by 2001,' " Stronach said in March 1999. "They said that year has been given to New York, so I said I want it for 2002."
Last October, Magna submitted a 139-page development plan to the city of Arcadia, Calif. The company intends to build a hotel, an arena, restaurants, and a movie theater on what is now the racetrack's south parking lot. The plan also includes new dormitories for backside workers and new barns. The Turf Club would be transformed into a simulcasting center.
"These plans have been discussed for 15 to 18 months," said McAlpine. "We've been before city councils. We've had hearings. It didn't just come up."
McAlpine added, however, that the improvements are still under consideration. No final decision has been made to proceed with construction.
"If it is possible to accommodate someone you do it," he said. "If you can't, you don't. I can tell you we are really excited about how the changes will improve things."
Chillingworth said if Santa Anita does lose the 2002 Breeders' Cup it is possible the racing association could find another racetrack, but it is unlikely.
"We would have to move the whole meet," he said. "We couldn't just move the event." Oak Tree conducts a nonprofit race meet that has a contract with Santa Anita through 2010. This year's meet is scheduled to run from Sept. 26 through Nov. 5.
Chillingworth said he expects to get official word from Breeders' Cup regarding Santa Anita within the next three to four weeks. Breeders' Cup normally selects its sites two years in advance. This year's championship will be held at Belmont Park. No site has been selected for 2003.