Horsemen in California are pushing ahead with plans to make Los Alamitos Race Course and San Luis Rey Downs full-time off-track stabling sites once Betfair Hollywood Park is no longer available, the California Horse Racing Board was told during its June 20 meeting.
Joe Morris, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, told the CHRB needs can be met for up to 1,200 horses that will be forced to move when Hollywood Park is shuttered at the end of the year. He said approval has been granted by the state's stabling and vanning committee to provide 2,900 stalls in 2014 while the industry seeks a permanent solution to the dilemma.
Morris said funding was approved for Santa Anita Park to act as an off-site host for 55 days next year. San Luis Rey, which is undergoing renovation that is expected to be complete in time for next season, and Los Alamitos would operate 365 days a year as Thoroughbred training locations.
Santa Anita has 1,900 stalls while the other two tracks each will provide 500 stalls. The arrangement could be in place on a temporary basis for perhaps two years, Morris said.
Figures were not discussed at the meeting, but an earlier estimate from the TOC said stabling under the scenario would cost about $4.3 million. That compares with about $7.5 million the TOC estimates would be required to use Fairplex Park as a year-round training center, which is the option heavily favored by the California Thoroughbred Trainers.
According to Morris, the plan would leave the fund with about $1.5 million available for vanning in 2014. The money is generated through a percentage of takeout from pari-mutuel betting at the state's simulcast wagering facilities.
"If we need more stalls we are going to find them," Morris told the board. "The money cannot come from the stabling and vanning fund because we have no funds there. But if we have horses that are ready to run that need stabling, we will find them stalls."
At its May meeting the CHRB allocated racing dates for 2014 and 2015 contingent on, among other things, finding a permanent solution to the stabling crunch. In replacing Hollywood Park on the calendar, the board gave an additional 11 weeks of racing to Santa Anita and five weeks to Del Mar.
Horsemen, Morris said, are looking at a portion of the proceeds from those additional days as a source for an "industry fund" designed to buy or build new auxiliary stabling in Southern California.
"The industry fund will be owned by Santa Anita, Del Mar, and the TOC and will be used exclusively to establish permanent stabling," Morris said. "For our owners to be confident about investing in California racing in the future, we need to develop permanent, world-class stabling."
Morris said a funding formula has been agreed to by Del Mar representatives, but negotiations are still in progress with Santa Anita.
The issue is complicated because The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, also owns San Luis Rey Downs. Santa Anita has said the company is planning to spend $5 million at the northern San Diego County site to renovate the barn area and main track, and add an inner turf course.
"There are hammers beating nails this day," Santa Anita general manager George Haines said in response to a question from the board. "We are making the largest commitment of anyone in California racing."
Alan Balch, executive director of the CTT, questioned whether San Luis Rey needs a turf course, at a cost of about $2 million, for training. He applauded the CHRB for taking an active role in the stabling negotiations, which he said has helped get the CTT to the table, but he reminded the board that the money for the industry fund comes from the racing public, and as the state's regulator, it has the power to provide direction.
Morris said he expects to have the issues over the industry fund resolved in time for the CHRB's next board meeting scheduled for July 18 at Del Mar.
Under the current dates allocation plan tentatively approved for the next two years, Santa Anita will extend its main season from April through the July 4 weekend, while Del Mar will add a November fall meet. The rest of the schedule remains virtually the same, though there is a three-week gap in December where there is no racing. Los Alamitos has expressed interest in filling that void.
In other action, the CHRB gave approval to revised rules for implementing and conducting exchange wagering and resubmitted them to the state Office of Administrative Law, which rejected them in March over issues of necessity, clarity, or consistency. The revisions were subjected to a 15-day public comment period that ended June 19; staff reported there were no comments.
The CTT is challenging the board through the OAL over the extent of economic impact exchange wagering will have on traditional pari-mutuel wagering, and what that will mean to the racing industry.
The CHRB also approved for a 45-day public comment period a rule extending mini-satellite licensing from two to five years in accordance with passage of a state law that amended the original legislation. It also heard a report from Sportech, the state's racing totalizator company, about plans to create between five and 10 high-end mini-satellite wagering facilities that combine restaurant and sports bar amenities with a Las Vegas-style race book atmosphere.
The board held racing dates allocations for Northern California in 2014 and 2015 until its July meeting as representatives continue to work out a summer calendar schedule.