Sanata Anita

Sanata Anita

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Santa Anita Requests Oak Tree Dates Takeover

After voiding a lease, the track wants to host its former partner's fall meet.

Santa Anita applied for the traditional Oak Tree Racing Association dates for 2011 during a Sept. 22 California Horse Racing Board race dates committee meeting. That put Santa Anita in direct competition for the dates, Sept. 28-Nov. 6, with Oak Tree, which until this year has run its dates at Santa Anita under a lease agreement but is now at Hollywood Park.

The full CHRB board listened to comments from representatives of Oak Tree, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita during the dates meeting. A vote on the 2011 California racing dates is on the agenda for Sept. 23 CHRB meeting.

Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of Oak Tree, urged the board to consider “the equity of the situation.” He pointed out that MI Developments, which owns Santa Anita, voided its lease with Oak Tree and now is seeking the same dates. Oak Tree is scheduled to run its 2010 meeting at Hollywood. If Oak Tree receives its traditional dates in the future, it plans to run at Hollywood in 2011 and move to Del Mar for 2012 and beyond.

Chillingworth noted that Oak Tree is a not-for-profit organization that has contributed more than $27 million to charities both within and outside of the equine industry since its inception in 1968.

CHRB chairman Keith Brackpool asked whether Hollywood’s arrangement with Oak Tree constituted a guarantee that Hollywood would remain open through 2011. Jack Liebau of Hollywood Park assured him that it did. Brackpool pointed out that in the past, Hollywood ownership, which ultimately wants to develop the track property, has not been willing to commit to live racing beyond a six-month window.

Scott Daruty and George Haines spoke on behalf of Santa Anita. Daruty said that MID has “a deep passion and deep commitment to horse racing in California” and had made a recent pledge of a major investment—replacing the main-track surface at Santa Anita.

“No matter how deep that passion and commitment,” Daruty said, “Santa Anita is not sustainable on a long-term basis running 17 weeks a year.”

Daruty urged the board to “focus on what is best for racing in California.” He added what he called a bold statement by saying, “Santa Anita is a better racing facility than Hollywood Park. It’s a better experience for the on-track customer. It’s more favorable to the bettors offtrack and out of state.”

Under Hollywood’s dates proposal, which includes the Oak Tree meet at Hollywood, racing in 2011 would be conducted at Hollywood for 25 weeks, while Santa Anita would run 16 weeks, beginning with its traditional Dec. 26 opening.

“What’s our motto: ‘California, it’s not our best track, but we think you’ll like it,’” asked Daruty. “That’s not putting our best foot forward. This is about what is best for racing.”

Brackpool responded by saying, “I think the speech would be far more relevant had we taken the dates away from you and you not voluntarily terminated the arrangement.”

CHRB commissioner David Israel told Daruty that he didn’t think Santa Anita went far enough, but suggested that a radical alteration of the Southern California dates calendar needs another year to resolve.

“No one owns the dates,” Israel said. “They belong to the state of California. In that reconfiguration, we need to start with a blank slate. I don’t think that’s practical in 2011.”

To a question from Commissioner Bo Derek regarding whether Santa Anita management felt that Oak Tree should apply for other dates or dissolve, Daruty noted that when Hollywood is developed, many dates will open up as options for Oak Tree, Santa Anita, and Del Mar.

“Part of the purpose today, I think, is to start this dialog,” Daruty said. “Are we going to sit here year after year after year and wait to see what Hollywood Park decides?”

“But you’re not asking for some of those Hollywood Park’s dates,” said Derek. “You’re asking specifically for the Oak Tree dates.”

“We would welcome the Hollywood Park dates in lieu of the Oak Tree dates,” said Daruty. “Historically, those six weeks (of Oak Tree) were run at the Santa Anita facility. Yes, they were run by a different association, but they were run at the Santa Anita facility. And we thought the least radical suggestion was to continue to run those six weeks at Santa Anita.”

Though most attention during the meeting focused on the Southern California dates, the board also examined the Northern California applications from Golden Gate Fields and the various fair race meetings. Golden Gate and the California Authority of Racing Fairs’ applications differed in several respects, though the main point of contention was whether the Humboldt County Fair at Ferndale should be allowed a week of no overlap with another northern race meeting. Ferndale raced under that arrangement for the first time in 2010.

Ferndale management contends that its survival depends on the additional revenue, some $250,000 this summer, that it accrues from no competition. However, the reduction in purses, commissions, and other revenues to the entire California racing industry with no overlap resulted in a loss to the industry of nearly $900,000, it was reported.

Commissioner Jesse Choper suggested that the industry find a way to subsidize Ferndale so that the overlap could continue without threatening Ferndale’s demise.

Other proposed changes to the Northern California calendar include a new three-week meeting at Pleasanton in March to help finance keeping the Alameda County Fair site open as a training facility throughout the year.