The California Horse Racing Board received a surprise visit from Santa Anita owner Frank Stronach during its meeting Jan. 19 at the racetrack. Stronach told the board he wants to see Santa Anita protected against real estate speculation in the future.
Stronach addressed the board briefly during its public comment period. Citing the track's potential value for future development, he said he would like to safeguard Santa Anita "for racing in perpetuity."
He said that in the next few months he will propose "a new structure and agreement" with horse owners (the Thoroughbred Owners of California) that would protect Santa Anita against any such property ventures. He said he presented the idea to CHRB chairman Keith Brackpool over dinner recently and was "very optimistic" about Santa Anita's future.
"Basically, in essence I said Santa Anita is a very important race place, not only for California but for the whole of America," Stronach related. "I would be willing to make some commitments that would keep Santa Anita for racing in perpetuity."
Stronach is chairman of the The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita and several other tracks around the nation, including Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park, and Pimlico.
Santa Anita is not under threat of redevelopment at the present time, but there was concern about the track's future when its previous owner, Stronach-chaired Magna Entertainment Corp., was undergoing bankruptcy.
While offering no specific details, Stronach told the board, "I do believe that if we work together we can have the greatest show in the world."
Brackpool, for his part, said he was "uplifted" by his discussion with Stronach. "I'm looking forward to a productive couple of months," he said.
Elsewhere, the board took its first step toward eliminating "jail time" for most horses claimed in California.
With little discussion and no opposition, the board approved the proposed rule change for a 45-day public comment period. At the conclusion of that time, commissioners can give the new regulation final approval. The proposal was initiated by the TOC.
Current California rules require that for a horse to run back within 25 days of being claimed, it must run for a tag of at least 25% more than the amount it was claimed for. Only after 25 days can the horse return at the same level for which it was claimed or lower.
The new rule would extend the 25% requirement to only a horse that won the race from which it was claimed. All other claimed horses would be allowed to return at the same level within the 25-day period for its new connections.
Lou Raffetto, president of the TOC, said the change would encourage trainers to bring claimed horses back to race sooner, potentially improving field sizes. He said racing secretaries at all the tracks in California were in favor of the move.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Brackpool said the CHRB would have the first of its public hearings on exchange wagering next month. Exchange wagering was approved as part of legislation signed into law last year.
Exchange wagering, in which bettors can make head-to-head wagers on almost any race-related proposition, is to be implemented in California this year.
Brackpool said he has appointed an exchange wagering committee to include CHRB vice chairman David Israel and commissioner Richard Rosenberg. The committee will hold an initial meeting to gather public comment prior to the next board meeting Feb. 23 at Santa Anita. The date for the committee's meeting has not been set.