Hollywood Park to Close in December

Betfair Hollywood Park, in a May 9 letter, said it told the California Horse Racing Board it won't seek 2014 racing dates and will close at the end of its fall meet Dec. 22.

The letter informing the industry of the coming closure was written and sent by Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau, who said the CHRB was informed a day earlier. The closure was first discussed on HRTV early in the afternoon of May 9.

Hollywood Park's announcement came two weeks before the CHRB is to begin consideration of racing dates for the 2014 season. That meeting is to take place May 23 in Sacramento.

Currently in its 75th season of racing, Hollywood Park hosted the inaugural Breeders' Cup World Championships in 1984 and again in 1987 and 1997. It would be the second major racetrack in California to close in recent times, following Bay Meadows in 2008.

"From an economic point of view, the land now simply has a higher and better use, so, unfortunately, racing will not continue here once the 2013 autumn meet is completed," Liebau said.

The track is owned by Hollywood Park Land Co., a subsidiary of the Bay Meadows Land Co. It has been slated for closure and redevelopment for years, but the project has stalled.

"When Hollywood Park was purchased in 2005 from Churchill Downs Inc., the Land Company stated that racing would continue for a minimum of three years, and promised that during the three-year period, a concerted effort would be made to improve racing's business model," Liebau said in the letter. "Without success, (the company) spent millions on two statewide initiatives that would have brought slot machines to Hollywood Park, and thereby assured the continuation of racing.

"In the absence of a favorable change in racing's business model, the ultimate development of the Hollywood property was inevitable. Sadly for we who love racing and Hollywood Park, it was simply a matter of time."

A card casino on the property will continue to operate, and is expected to be renovated as part of the new development, Liebau said.

The track's 238-acre block of land near Los Angeles International Airport is to be turned into 3,000 new housing units, including upscale single-family town homes and condos; 25 acres of parkland, including a 10-acre central park; and a retail and entertainment district, anchored by a movie theater, office space, and a 300-room hotel.

"We've lasted longer than anticipated because of the economy and this happening now is some indication the economy is improving,'' Liebau said. "It's going to be a major change as far as Inglewood is concerned."

Liebau acknowledged the "period of uncertainty" created problems for the horse racing industry in California.

"Over the next few months, the logistics of the pending closure will be worked out," Liebau said in the letter. "You will be kept advised of the plans."

Hollywood Park's current summer meet runs through July 14. The fall meet opens Nov. 7.

Liebau also said it is expected the stable area will close by the end of this year. "Construction can start almost immediately after the first of the year,'' he said.

The CHRB and horsemen in the state have been working on a contingency plan in case Hollywood Park closed. As of now it appears Santa Anita Park and Del Mar will race most of the dates in Southern California.

Fairplex Park has expressed interest in providing a year-round off-track training facility. In addition, San Luis Rey Downs in Northern San Diego County announced plans to renovate its barn area and track beginning in June for expansion of its off-track training capability. San Luis Rey, like Santa Anita, is owned by The Stronach Group.