During a meeting with the California Horse Racing Board March 14, Hollywood Park made it clear that it wants to remain a part of the racing calendar at least through 2012.
The 238-acre track site is under threat of a large-scale commercial and residential build-out already approved by the city of Inglewood. Track president Jack Liebau previously stated Hollywood's intention to operate through the end of next year as it awaits a turnaround in the economy that would it allow it to proceed with plans to bulldoze the facility.
But because of property owner Hollywood Park Land Company's refusal to provide the California racing industry anything more than a six-month notice once it decides to shutter the track, its place on the state racing calendar is anything but assured beyond 2011.
During the CHRB's meeting at Santa Anita, the question over Hollywood's future plans came up as the board discussed the track's application to run this year's 54-day spring/summer meet from April 21 through July 17. Chairman Keith Brackpool noted that Hollywood is making improvements to the plant to coincide with next month's opening.
"I'm reading here in the marketing report that you gave me … 'if we are given assurances of further dates, we will make further improvements'," he said. Brackpool asked Liebau if he was making a commitment to future racing.
"We are undertaking certain improvements that hopefully will be done for this meet. This is sort of a phase one. We think it is incumbent upon us to make investments in our plant," Liebau responded.
He said a study on a second phase of renovation has been undertaken as well. More improvements would be forthcoming provided the CHRB and Hollywood can come to an agreement on future race dates, he implied.
"What I'm saying is that I'm getting vibes that the horse racing board is having doubts about allocating dates to us in 2012. If that is wrong, I'm elated," Liebau said.
He said he has discussed his concerns with track ownership and added: "Discussions are going to ensue and one of the things we need to discuss is the level of investment we're going to make."
Vice chairman David Israel pointed out that the board is considering a five-year dates plan and in order for Hollywood Park to be a part of that, "we need to have assurances that you will be around for five years."
During a board meeting one year ago, Chris Meany, senior vice president of the land company, flatly refused to discuss anything beyond a six-month notice before cutting off racing at Hollywood.
"The meeting in April was unfortunate," Liebau said. He apologized for Meany's posture at the earlier board appearance.
He also invited Brackpool to have further meetings with Hollywood Park Land Company boss Terry Fancher.
"When we have our conversations in a few months about the 2012 dates, I think what I hear you saying is that you are willing to bring your facility back to being a first-class entertainment venue," Brackpool said. "We would certainly look at that. I just don't see this board continuing to hand out dates in the short term with no assurances."
For the current meet, Liebau said Hollywood is completely refurbishing its upstairs Gold Cup Room and is redoing the turf club foyer. He said Hollywood has bought out its former food concessionaire and has upgraded its food service in the general admission area.
"Our food has improved tremendously," Liebau said.
Hollywood intends to operate a four-day week during the upcoming meeting (Thursday-Sunday) and will continue to race on Friday nights. The board approved the license application by a 6-0 vote.
Earlier, Liebau complained that Santa Anita is instituting a five-day racing week beginning March 23.
"As is universally accepted we have a shortage of horses," he said. "I was somewhat taken aback that Santa Anita is going to five days a week, which will only be harmful for Hollywood Park."
Brackpool agreed, but noted that Santa Anita's application was approved for a five-day week.
"I continue to believe that full fields are our best chance for recovery," he said. "The statistics don't lie. Full fields are very powerful. It was my understanding that the original approval of the track's application was for five days. I am concerned that we won't have full fields (at Santa Anita).
"I can tell you that for the next few weeks we'll really watch that closely," Brackpool added. "I think Mr. Liebau has a very valid point."