Oak Tree, Santa Anita Complete Deal for 2011

Oak Tree, Santa Anita Complete Deal for 2011
Photo: File Photo

The Oak Tree Racing Association and MI Developments have reached an agreement that will allow Santa Anita Park to run the traditional fall stakes program in Southern California in 2011.

Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of Oak Tree, said MID has agreed to pay $500,000 for the rights to run the stakes races. These include a number of all-important Breeders' Cup prep races such as the Yellow Ribbon (gr. IT), Goodwood (gr. I), Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship (gr. IT), Norfolk (gr. I) and Oak Leaf (gr. I).

"They would run the meet and use our stakes," Chillingworth said of the agreement with Santa Anita. In addition to the cash payment, Oak Tree would retain offices at Santa Anita through June 2012 and also continue to receive bookkeeping services until then.

Chillingworth said the payment would allow Oak Tree to continue to support charitable industry causes. The organization's foundation has contributed more than $4.7 million over the years, mostly to equine-related programs.

"It will help, but it won't solve the whole problem," Chillingworth said of the payment.

During its Feb. 17 meeting, the California Horse Racing Board allocated Oak Tree's traditional fall racing dates to Santa Anita for 2011. The meet is to run Sept. 28 to Nov. 6.

It marks the first time in 42 years that the not-for-profit organization won't operate a meet in Southern California. Oak Tree was based at Santa Anita from 1969 to 2009 but moved to Hollywood Park in 2010 when horsemen objected to the condition of Santa Anita's former synthetic track.

In the dates dispute before the CHRB, trainers and owners sided with Santa Anita, which replaced the synthetic track with a natural sand and clay racing surface, over Oak Tree, which sought to run again at Hollywood.

Chillingworth said Oak Tree is continuing to hold discussions with Del Mar about moving there and would reapply for its former dates if a deal can be worked out. He noted that Del Mar would like to remove and widen its existing turf course and the additional revenue from an Oak Tree meet would make that possible.

"It would be very good for the industry," he said.

Of more immediate concern for Oak Tree, Chillingworth said, is a challenge from the Internal Revenue Service to its charitable status. The IRS wants to reduce Oak Tree's allowable deductions to 10% of its gifts to various organizations, he said.

Among those receiving support from Oak Tree are the California Equine Retirement Foundation, California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Foundation, Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund, The Disabled Jockeys’ Endowment, Harry A. Biszantz Memorial Center, United Pegasus Foundation, Winners Foundation, and Southern California Equine Foundation.

"We're fighting it," Chillingworth said. "This would all but wipe us out. It's gone before the IRS lead examiner for the West Coast. We're expecting a decision in June or July."
 

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