Hollywood Park Plans to Race Through 2011

Hollywood Park plans to race through the 2011 calendar year, track president Jack Liebau said.

Liebau reacted via email to a published comment from George Haines, president of Hollywood's rival, Santa Anita Park.

"Recently, George Haines was quoted as saying that Santa Anita hoped to capture some of Hollywood Park’s early spring dates, since Hollywood Park is expected to close as early as 2011," Liebau noted. "For the record, Hollywood Park has every intention of operating throughout 2011."

His comment came in part as a response to an inquiry about additional race dates requested by Frank Stronach, chairman of MI Developments, which owns Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, in a letter to the California Horse Racing Board.

In a follow-up Aug. 5, Liebau said that Hollywood Park made the decision to run in 2011 while it was negotiating with the Oak Tree Racing Association to host its fall meet after MID had abrogated a longstanding lease with the not-for-profit group. That became unnecessary when Stronach, appearing before the CHRB at a meeting at Hollywood June 22, reluctantly agreed to allow Oak Tree to remain at Santa Anita for 2010.

"We were prepared to sign the agreement that morning," Liebau said. "We wanted to give Oak Tree a place to run in 2011."

Since then, Oak Tree has been negotiating with Del Mar for a long-term lease arrangement beginning in 2011.

As far as the development of Hollywood's site, which is approved for a large-scale commercial and residential build-out by the City of Inglewood, there is no additional information, Liebau said. A representative of the Hollywood Park Land Company told the CHRB in March that the plans are moving forward but there is no definite time established for the track's closure. The property owner has said it will give the industry at least a six-month notice before taking such action.

"We've always been told to operate under the impression that we are running indefinitely," Liebau said.

Racing dates for 2011 have not been allocated. At the CHRB's most recent meeting July 22 at Del Mar, chairman Keith Brackpool said he wants to hold a full-scale examination of the racing calendar in September, though no definite date for the industry session had been selected as of Aug. 5.

Stronach, in a letter made public during the week of July 26, requested 140 dates for Santa Anita, a marked increase from the 83 it was awarded in 2010. He sought not only date expansion, but the ability "to run those race days when we think we can get the most customers” regardless of whether he is competing directly with another racing association. 

Liebau believes MID desires more than just Hollywood's spring dates.

"It is my understanding that his proposal also contemplates Santa Anita running only three days a week," Liebau said of Stronach. "By my calculation, the 140 days would have Santa Anita operating 46 or 47 weeks a year. Such being the case, racing dates of entities other than Hollywood Park seem to be in his sights. Clearly, the cancellation of Oak Tree’s lease is an indication that Stronach is also after Oak Tree’s dates."

Hollywood recently completed a difficult 57-day spring/summer meeting in which attendance, on-track handle, and all-source wagering all declined by more than 10% over its corresponding 2009 stand. A shortage of available horses, making for small fields, has contributed to similar downturns in attendance and handle at Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields, and Oak Tree in 2010.

Diane Becker, part of the "Save Hollywood Park" group that has fought the track's development, welcomed the news that Hollywood would remain open for another calendar year. "Hollywood is way too important to toss aside and I don't think we're the only ones that feel that way," she said.

"I don't think they (land owners) have any money for the development, and who is going to give them a loan for that?" she added. "They really ought to re-think the whole plan there anyway. You know we are never again going to have the climate for sub-prime mortgages that we did before, which I know they were counting on to sell the houses in that development.

"Change the plan to include the track, use it as the centerpiece. And if the industry goes after the Instant Racing, as we think they should, that would certainly keep the track open for a long, long time."