Betfair Hollywood Park

Betfair Hollywood Park

Benoit Photo

CHRB Gets Update as Moving Day Draws Closer

Hollywood's impending closure means relocation of up to 1,000 horses in seven weeks.

Moving day will soon be here as the closure of Betfair Hollywood Park draws close, and the California Horse Racing Board got an update from industry leaders Dec. 12 on the situation.

Hollywood, which closes its doors to racing for good Dec. 22, is to remain open through Jan. 31, 2014, for stabling before everyone must be out. At that time, as many as 1,000 horses will be on the move. The industry has backed a plan that calls for auxiliary stabling at Los Alamitos Race Course, Barretts Racing at Fairplex, and San Luis Rey Downs training facility.

Joe Morris, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, told the board during its meeting at Santa Anita Park that stall assignments for the upcoming meet there should be made known to trainers by Dec. 15 or soon after. Santa Anita is expected to carry a full barn capacity of 1,850 horses.

Morris said that with a regional Thoroughbred population of about 2,500 currently, there should be plenty of stall space at off-track sites for those trainers who need more room than that allotted at Santa Anita. The track begins its winter/spring meet Dec. 26.

Scott Daruty, representing Santa Anita, said trainers will be limited to 40 stalls, with the racing office making the determination on who gets them based on a review of applications. Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said there are provisions in the organization's stabling agreement that could extend individual allocations to as many as 50 stalls.

As of Feb. 1, those trainers seeking auxiliary space can choose from Fairplex Park, Los Alamitos, and San Luis Rey Downs. As the horse population grows later in the year, those locations figure to play a more important role.

The board got progress reports on renovation plans at Los Alamitos and San Luis Rey Downs, and representative for both expressed confidence they will be fully prepared in time for the Feb. 1 deadline. Los Alamitos consultant Brad McKinzie said plans to expand the Quarter Horse track's five-eighths mile oval to just shy of a mile were approved by the Cypress City Council Dec. 9. He said track maintenance specialist Dennis Moore is overseeing the project, which will allow the track to operate Thoroughbred racing for five weeks during the year in addition to daily training.

The expansion, which will include the widening of both turns, is expected to be ready by Jan. 23, McKinzie said. While that is going on, the track is rearranging the backstretch to accommodate 500 Thoroughbreds, to be housed in an area separate from Quarter Horses.

San Luis Rey Downs, which like Santa Anita is owned by the Stronach Group, will have 495 stalls available once its renovation is completed, while Fairplex Park is making room for 500 horses, mostly 2-year-olds, on a six-month basis into the summer.

Given the current horse population, commissioner George Krikorian questioned whether it might "be more efficient or economical" to leave Fairplex out of the equation, at least until a stronger need for stall space is demonstrated. Fairplex, at $13,000 a day, costs much more for training than either San Luis Rey ($6,000) or Los Alamitos ($4,700).

Krikorian cited the strapped financial condition of the state's stabling and vanning fund. The program derives its income from a percentage of satellite betting proceeds, which has been on a steady decline for several years with the rise of advance deposit wagering. The program is $2 million behind in payments with recipients waiting six months to be paid, industry representatives said, acknowledging that the situation figures to worsen with the Hollywood closure.

"If there's no stabling at Fairplex this year, we save $2 million and maybe we have this fixed (the deficit) for 2015," Krikorian said.

Commissioner Chuck Winner, who worked with racing representatives on the stabling plans, said it was "critical to solve that situation (the stabling deficit) through legislation." He said much effort was needed "to reach an accord that satisfied everyone" and to redo the stabling plan at this point "would create a bigger problem than it solves."

The board formed an ad hoc committee consisting of Winner and Krikorian to work with Santa Anita officials on plans to renovate the track's deteriorated backstretch. The development of the project, which must address wastewater treatment issues, is a vital piece of the stabling situation given the ever greater role the Arcadia track will play in the future.

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club also gave a brief update on its plans to have a widened turf course ready in time for the 2014 summer meet. The popular San Diego County venue is spending about $5 million to widen the course to 80 feet from its current width of between 52 and 63 feet (depending on rail placement) to allow for fields of up to 14 horses. The project, which includes the widening and softening of the angle of its inner chute, is starting with a state-of-the-art irrigation system expected to be completely installed next month.

The grass, a GN-1 Bermuda similar to Santa Anita's, is to be planted in February and testing and monitoring is to begin in March with an eye to having the course ready for racing in July.