Final Season for Hollywood Park?

Final Season for Hollywood Park?
Photo: Benoit
Hollywood Park may be celebrating its 70th anniversary season, but the question remains, will the Southern California track be around in 2009 for its 71st?

“I just don’t know—nobody knows,” said F. Jack Liebau, Hollywood Park president, on opening day, April 23.
When the Bay Meadows Land Company (BMLC) bought Hollywood Park three years ago, officials assured the California racing industry the track would continue for at least three years. That time period ends this September, which has led to widespread speculation that the track wouldn’t continue past 2008.

“That was just an assurance that we were going to stay open for sure for three years,” Liebau said. “It did not mean that we were going to close at the end of the three years.”

The BMLC is currently going through the entitlement, or zoning, process for the Hollywood Park property with the city of Inglewood. It is unknown how long that will take, and then the plans will have to go through the design and approval process.

Ultimately, Hollywood Park will likely give way to retail shops and residential areas that will include a variety of single-family and condominium housing. Liebau said one set of plans he has seen would keep the infield lake in place and includes parkland.

During the past three years, Liebau said Hollywood management, as have other parts of the industry, has sought ways to improve the business model of Southern California racing. Many have hoped that bringing slot machines to the racetracks would help them compete with Native American casinos. But the industry has been unable to get approval for slots at tracks through either the state legislature or statewide referendums.
As a result, it appears inevitable that the Hollywood property will be developed. That not only would put a hole in the year-round racing schedule, it would displace horses that train at Hollywood during the Santa Anita meetings and every other year during Del Mar.

Solutions that have been proposed include turning Fairplex Park in Pomona into a mile track with year-round training and expanding the Los Alamitos Quarter Horse track in Cypress to accommodate Thoroughbred meetings. Nothing has yet been put in place, though.

“If Hollywood was to close before there was something in place,” Liebau said, “I am not optimistic as to what the future of Southern California (racing) would be.”

Should Hollywood follow the pattern of Bay Meadows in Northern California, it could remain a racetrack for several years to come.

“Certainly, we are going to keep running as long as we can,” Liebau said. “We have always been under the direction to run the tracks, whether it was Bay Meadows or Hollywood Park, on the basis that racing would be conducted there indefinitely. We would not operate the tracks as lame ducks.”

To that end, Hollywood’s 70th anniversary includes a full stakes schedule highlighted by the June 28 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I), July 5 American Oaks (gr. IT), and July 5 CashCall Mile (gr. IIT), all $750,000 events. The ninth Cal National Gold Rush day for California-bred runners is slated for April 27, offering 10 stakes worth a total of $1.3 million, with Lava Man expected to run in the $150,000 TVG Khaled Stakes.
Unlike the recently completed Santa Anita meeting, which experimented with a Thursday through Monday week, Hollywood is running the traditional Wednesday through Sunday week. The 60-day meet will conclude July 13.

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