MI Developments received two waivers from the California Horse Racing Board Nov. 9 allowing the Frank Stronach-controlled company to move forward with the operation of Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields and complete installation of a new dirt track at Santa Anita.
The board, by a unanimous vote in each instance during the meeting at Hollywood Park, waived sections of California law that would have kept MID from operating more than one racetrack in the state as well as its advance deposit wagering company, XpressBet, after the corporation agreed to several conditions.
After getting a progress report from MID representative Scott Daruty on Santa Anita's new dirt track, the commission also waived the state's synthetic surface mandate that went into effect Jan. 1, 2008.
Later in the meeting, the board approved a 76-day meet for Santa Anita running from Dec. 26 to April 19 and a 104-day stand for Golden Gate Fields that runs Dec. 26 to June 12.
Chairman Keith Brackpool noted that a big purse increase for overnight races thanks to legislation upping takeout on exotic wagers coincides with the beginning of those meets.
"I haven't been this excited about the start of a meet in the (time) I've been on the board," he said in reference to Santa Anita. "We've got a new track, a 26% increase in overnights, and all the corporate business behind us."
He was referring to the bankruptcy of Magna Entertainment, which led to the court-ordered reorganization plan that put parent company MID in charge of the Stronach's California racing operations.
Disputes beginning in the spring arose with the board, most importantly over the non-payment of assets to racing entities that MEC had been holding in trust at the time it declared bankruptcy. As a result, the CHRB had withheld allowing MID to operate Santa Anita, Golden Gate and XpressBet on more than an interim basis until it agreed to a list of conditions.
The waiver, which states simply that California horseracing will benefit by the multiple ownership by MID, was approved with the following conditions:
-- Santa Anita, Golden Gate and XpressBet must submit annual audited financial statements on "a stand-alone basis" as a requirement for licensing;
-- Posting of a $1.75 million bond for two years payable to the CHRB in the event either Santa Anita (Los Angeles Turf Club) or Golden Gate Fields (Pacific Racing Association) become insolvent or is unable to run its 2011 or 2012 dates for material reasons other than insufficient field size;
-- Requiring compliance to stringent rules for the installation and maintenance of Santa Anita's new racing surface;
-- Santa Anita remaining open for training during periods in which it is not running live racing;
-- Revocation of the waiver in the event MID stops owning or operating any of the three entities;
-- Expanding the television distribution of Santa Anita's race signal if it is awarded any dates other than the traditional winter meet;
-- Requiring Golden Gate to resolve its outstanding dispute with portions the Northern California racing industry over bankruptcy-related payments within 90 days.
The board received an ovation from the 50 to 60 people in attendance when it voted to waive the synthetic track mandate for Santa Anita.
The motion was made by commissioner Jerry Moss, who was the only member at the time to abstain from the adoption of the rule, ushered in due to the high mortality rate of horses competing on California tracks.
Moss felt more study of engineered racing surfaces was needed before making them mandatory.
Persisent drainage problems caused Santa Anita to consider replacing the track. But horsmen helped force the decision when they refused to approve using the Pro-Ride surface for the Oak Tree Racing Association's fall meet.
Santa Anita began removing its synthetic track materials in October, so the board's waiver was merely a formality.
Daruty told the board the selection of materials for the new natural dirt track was "a highly collaborative process" undertaken with horsemen, primarily the California Thoroughbred Trainers.
"Collaborative, though, does not mean unanimous," he told the board. "What we tried to do was take into account all of the various viewpoints."
Daruty said the track composition has been approved by all parties and Santa Anita has purchased nearly $1 million in equipment for maintenance of the track to ensure its perfect grade, uniformity and proper water content.
Representatives for the CTT and Thoroughbred Owners of California told the board they approved of the board's waiver
Daruty said the new track is on target for a Dec. 6 opening, which should give trainers plenty of time to become familiar with it before opening day.