The framework for a Southern California racing calendar over the next two years with the impending closure of Betfair Hollywood Park was approved by the California Horse Racing Board May 23.
During the course of a 3 1/2-hour dates discussion at Cal Expo's clubhouse racing facility in Sacramento, CHRB chairman David Israel arm-twisted three other commissioners into going along with the plan over the objections of California Thoroughbred Trainers representatives. The two-year calendar, which will carry Southern California through the end of 2015, was approved unanimously with several conditions.
Santa Anita Park and Del Mar will pick up the dates relinquished by Hollywood Park, which is being shuttered for commercial and residential development next year. The bulk of the additional race days will go to Santa Anita, which will extend the traditional winter/spring meet that closes in April through the July 4 weekend.
Alan Balch, executive director of the CTT, and Jim Cassidy, president of the trainers' group, requested a one-month delay on the vote to settle unresolved issues over stabling 1,000 horses once Hollywood Park shuts down Dec. 31 after 75 years.
"We think the training issue must be resolved first. We believe that assigning dates today is premature," Balch told the board. He complained that the CTT had been excluded from talks between the Thoroughbred Owners of California and industry representatives.
The CTT wants further consideration of Fairplex Park as a year-round off-site training facility, citing a survey of 181 trainers that favored the Los Angeles County Fair complex by better than 2-1 due primarily to its proximity to Santa Anita. The TOC, in meetings with other industry representatives, said it sees a renovated San Luis Rey Downs facility in northern San Diego County and Los Alamitos Race Course in Orange County as cheaper alternatives.
Commissioners George Krikorian, Richard Rosenberg, and Jesse Choper were inclined to go along with the CTT's request for delay. But Israel, saying, "Government is always kicking the can down the road and we aren't going to do that," convinced them otherwise.
Under the dates plan approved for next year, Santa Anita will observe its traditional opening day Dec. 26, 2013, and will run through July 6. Following a brief hiatus, Del Mar would open its popular summer meet July 16 and run through Sept. 3.
Fairplex would open for its short meet a day later and run through Sept. 23. Then Santa Anita would reopen for its fall stand Sept. 25 through Nov. 2. Del Mar would conclude the season with its own autumn meet from Nov. 5 to Dec. 7.
There would be no racing for the remainder of December until Santa Anita's reopening Dec. 26, 2014. Then it would run through July 5, 2015, followed by Del Mar (July 15-Sept. 7), Fairplex (Sept. 10-25), Santa Anita (Sept. 26-Oct. 25), and Del Mar once again (Oct. 28 to Dec. 6).
Santa Anita and Del Mar agreed to alternate Breeders' Cup weekends for simulcast wagering during their respective fall meets in years in which neither hosts the World Championships.
Though the 2014 World Championships is only 17 months away, the Breeders' Cup board is yet to name a host site. Santa Anita, which is hosting in 2013, has applied to be the Breeders' Cup host site again in 2014. Both Santa Anita and Del Mar intend to apply in 2015, track representatives said.
Scott Daruty, representing Santa Anita, said: "We are optimistic that the Breeders' Cup will be coming back to Santa Anita for a third straight year (in 2014). For 2015, we believe it's good to have the Breeders' Cup in California. If it's not us, we hope it's (Del Mar)."
Daruty pushed for quick action by the CHRB on the calendar so that Santa Anita's owner, The Stronach Group, can commence its plan to renovate the San Luis Rey Downs facility in time for Hollywood Park's closure. The four-month facelift at a cost of $5 million is to include new barns, resurfacing of the one-mile training track, and the addition of an inner turf course. When completed, it is expected San Luis Rey will be able to accommodate just under 500 horses.
Del Mar representatives were also keen on getting quick action from the board.
Josh Rubinstein, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, explained that his group is only a tenant on the fairgrounds property. He said the DMTC needs to get its racing dates presented to the 22nd Agricultural District Board as soon as possible in order to secure the fall race dates.
Del Mar added a week in December to its original request, making it a five-week meet, in order to pick up a pair of important grade I events for 2-year-olds, the Hollywood Starlet and CashCall Futurity.
The conditions on the calendar placed by the CHRB include the industry establishing a fund for the purpose of determining a permanent training facility that would be funded by the TOC and the two tracks picking up Hollywood Park's racing dates. Excess revenue from the additional dates, the amount of which is still being negotiated, would be placed in an industry fund designed to establish a permanent training center.
Joe Morris, incoming president of the TOC, told the board there is sufficient stabling space to replace the nearly 2,000 stalls that will be lost when Hollywood Park closes. From an economic standpoint, he said it made sense to use Los Alamitos and San Luis Rey for off-site training 365 days a year. Both facilities would be expected to handle about 500 Thoroughbreds at an estimated cost of $6,100 a day.
Santa Anita, which like Hollywood Park receives $18,000 per day for training costs when acting as the off-site facility, has stalls for an additional 1,900 horses. But it will likely lose some capacity as it renovates its backstretch area because of water quality treatment requirements, Morris said.
Morris said the arrangement would get the industry through the next few years. "This is not a long-term tenable situation," he said.
Using Fairplex, which has room for up to 1,200 horses, would cost $13,000 a day for 500 horses and $16,000 a day for 1,000 head, Morris said.
Israel also wants a plan for the successful continuation of the stabling and vanning fund, which in recent years has dipped precariously due to the decline in satellite wagering from which it is derived. He also conditioned the calendar on Santa Anita and Del Mar working out a shared television distribution plan for their races on TVG and HRTV. Del Mar is currently an exclusive track for TVG through 2016.
Brad McKinzie, longtime consultant and executive for Los Alamitos, told the board the Quarter Horse track intends to apply for racing dates during the open two weeks in December. Los Alamitos has run low-level Thoroughbred races to fill its programs for years, but sees the opening as a way to introduce the Orange County market to a better grade of racing.
John Barr, representing the Oak Tree Racing Association, said his charitable group is "willing to pitch in and do what we can" to help the Los Alamitos effort. Sherwood Chillingworth, also from Oak Tree, said a recent marketing study "showed Los Alamitos is a good place to be and potentially very profitable."
Balch said after the meeting that he had no objections to the racing calendar that was approved, but that it would be a mistake to ignore Fairplex in the post-Hollywood Park equation. He said that if small-scale trainers are forced to ship all over Southern California in order to race at Santa Anita and Del Mar, they'll eventually leave the business or relocate out of state.
"They have got to take another look at Fairplex," Balch said. "It won't hurt the big outfits. But with the cost of transporting horses what it is, they cannot afford to not be in Pomona. The trainers need to be heard."