Plans Aired for Hollywood, Bay Meadows

Plans Aired for Hollywood, Bay Meadows
Photo: Benoit
Hollywood Park could close after the 2008 Fall Meet.

With the hour glass emptying on Bay Meadows and perhaps Hollywood Park as well, the California Horse Racing Board heard from industry representatives working on contingency plans for the future of Thoroughbred racing in the state without two of its major tracks.

The discussion, at the behest of increasingly concerned commissioners, came up during the board’s regular monthly meeting held April 24 in the Hollywood Park Turf Club.

“We’re fine with plans,” said board member John Amerman. “But what we want is action.”

The more pressing immediate concern is in the north, where Bay Meadows is to shutter for training by the end of the year, if not before, after racing concludes in August with the San Mateo County Fair. What is expected to be the 74-year-old track's final regular season ends May 11. 

In the south, Craig Fravel, executive vice president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said his group has asked for a meeting next week with Terry Fancher, head of the investment group that owns Hollywood Park as well as Bay Meadows. He said he hopes to get a two-year commitment to continue racing in Inglewood while expansion plans for a year-round training facility are pursued at Fairplex Park. Hollywood Park stables between 1,500 and 1,900 horses.

A three-year contingency plan in the north beginning in 2009 has been worked out by “stakeholders,” though the details were not spelled out for the board because of the fluidity of the situation. During the transition period, in which the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton seeks funding for expansion and construction, Golden Gate Fields would take on added dates.

Pleasanton would serve as a second training facility and other fair sites could also be available in that capacity if needed, representatives said.

“Between Golden Gate Fields and Pleasanton, we believe we will be able to handle the horse population as far as Northern California is concerned,” Robert Hartman, Golden Gate’s general manager, told the board. “We’re going to be pretty close to 100 percent full.”

Hartman said he and other Northern California officials are primarily concerned with maintaining satisfactory stabling arrangements in order to keep horsemen from leaving the region for Southern California or tracks out of state.

Pleasanton would host four-week spring and fall meets during the three-year transition, but they would be raced at Golden Gate while construction at Alameda County Fair is in progress. Hartman said there would also be more breaks in the racing schedule in the north and four-day weeks. Summer racing at the fairs would continue as always.

All of this would need CHRB approval in order to be implemented in 2009. But much is still needed to make the expansion at Pleasanton a reality.

Rick Pickering, representing Alameda County Fair, pointed out that other than a waste water study that is in progress, the fairgrounds has not yet pursued any other local authorization for the racing facility’s expansion. He explained that the property is owned by the county, whose board of supervisors could veto any plan, but because of the fair’s sewer agreement with the city of Pleasanton, city approval would also be required.

“The city of Pleasanton has taken no position,” Pickering said. “The board of supervisors has no formal position, either. They have encouraged us to continue going forward.”

He said there is no funding for the project at this time but thatpublic bond dialogs are going on.” He said 13 different components for financing have been discussed. 

“We’re identifying the revenue streams that may be available to us,” added Christopher Korby, executive director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs. 

He noted that a bill signed into law last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger allows the fairs, with the approval of the CHRB, to use an additional 1% of takeout for fair facility improvements. 

Shifting gears to the south, chairman Richard Shapiro questioned Hollywood Park president of racing Jack Liebau on the future of his track after Liebau said the venue is committed only through the end of the 2008 fall/winter meet.

“I don’t know … I don’t think anyone knows beyond that,” Liebau said. “If you had a plan in place, then presumably you wouldn’t want to grant future dates (to Hollywood) because we couldn’t commit” past the fall meet.

Liebau said much depends on the speed of the entitlement process in the city of Inglewood for a redevelopment plan.

Fravel said Southern California is working on “a short-term contingency plan” to cover the period between Hollywood’s closing and the completion of the expansion at Fairplex, which like Pleasanton, lacks a funding plan. He said stabling, which might have to be split between Del Mar, Fairplex, and two small training facilities, is a primary concern.

“It would not be an ideal situation,” Fravel said. “It’s not going to be a solution that is as good as Hollywood Park staying open for two more years.”

 

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