Reviving an issue that's been quietly lingering in the background for the past few years, the California Horse Racing Board approved a Southern California dates calendar for 2013 that requires Betfair Hollywood Park to give a 10-month commitment to racing.
Track president Jack Liebau told the board, meeting at the Del Mar simulcast center, that by doing so, it "was drawing a line in the sand that could lead to the premature demise of Hollywood Park."
The Inglewood track is under threat of a large-scale commercial and residential build-out of its 238-acre site, although progress on the development has been halted by economic conditions. Property owner Hollywood Park Land Company, which completed its entitlement process with the city in 2009, has insisted that it can provide the state's racing industry with no more than a six-month commitment before it shutters.
But the board took action on next year's calendar that was conditioned on Hollywood Park committing to its fall/winter schedule, which would begin Nov. 6, by Jan. 1, 2013. The vote, on a motion by vice chairman David Israel, was approved unanimously by the seven-member CHRB.
"What you are saying is that if Hollywood Park doesn't give you anything by Jan. 1, then we are out of business," Liebau said.
Some board members indicated the Jan. 1 commitment date could be adjusted.
Liebau told the board that the track's owners could move on its development plans quickly should economic factors improve and financing becomes available. "It would depend on how fast the lawyers could draft the loan documents," he said.
Liebau gave the board assurance that Hollywood would continue racing through its spring/summer stand next year.
Board member Jesse Choper said the board needs to move forward as if Hollywood will continue to race until such time as it needs to be replaced on the calendar.
"Just as I understand Hollywood's position, they have to understand ours," he said.
Commissioner Steve Beneto called the current arrangement with Hollywood "kind of an iffy deal."
"I think we have to get a contingency plan going right now," he added.
In the event racing were to be curtailed at Hollywood, its fall dates would likely fall to Santa Anita Park, which already has a block of dates from Sept. 25 to Nov. 3, including the 2013 Breeders' Cup World Championships.
Of greater concern, the board acknowledged, is where horses can train if Hollywood was no longer in the picture. Hollywood and Santa Anita have alternated for years as auxiliary training sites when the other is in action. Past proposals to expand facilities at Los Alamitos Racecourse and Fairpex Park have failed to advance because of the cost associated with such plans.
Such discussions are likely to be rekindled in the coming months. Liebau said Hollywood Park would be willing to participate.
After the meeting, Liebau said only a "game changer" such as Instant Racing might convince track owners to remain in the horse racing business.
The race date calendar in Southern California remains basically unchanged in 2013. Santa Anita's winter/spring meet begins Dec. 26, 2012 and runs through April 21. Hollywood's spring/summer stand is from April 24 to July 14. Then comes the Del Mar summer session (July 17-Sept. 4) and the Los Angeles County Fair at Fairplex Park in Pomona (Sept. 5-23). Santa Anita's second meet runs Sept. 25 through Nov. 3, followed by Hollywood Park's fall/winter dates from Nov. 6 through Dec. 22.
The board deferred action on the Northern California calendar until its Sept. 20 meeting at Fairplex. Representatives from Golden Gate Fields and the California Authority of Racing Fairs said they were in substantial agreement on next year's schedule and are also working on a revised plan for 2014.
Elsewhere, the board held over a vote on a proposed sequence of rules to govern exchange wagering. The board's ad hoc committee met Aug. 22 at Del Mar to accept proposed wording changes in the regulations. Israel, who chairs the committee, said all such suggestions must be submitted to the board by Aug. 31.
"We made a great deal of progress," Israel said.
The board approved license applications to conduct meets at the Big Fresno Fair Oct. 4-14 and Golden Gate Fields Oct. 17-Dec. 16.
At the request of Santa Anita, the board reinstated "Quick Pick" random wagering. The bet was suspended in 2008 when a glitch became apparent after a California customer purchased 1,300 Quick Pick superfectas on the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) in which not one contained the winner, #20 Big Brown.
Sportech Racing, which replaced Scientific Games as the company providing totalizer equipment and services to California, said the software problems had been worked out. It retained the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau to test the wager. The board approved reinstating the wager with the assurance that it would be thoroughly retested every three years.
The board also gave final approval to a pair of rule changes it had approved earlier and came back for a final vote following 45-day public comment periods. One rule would prevent the entering of a pregnant mare to race beyond 120 days of gestation. The other requires that a claim on a horse be invalidated by stewards if the name of a new trainer, the race date, or race number is listed incorrectly on the claiming slip.