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Oak Tree Eyes Del Mar as Future Home

Such a move would have Breeders' Cup possibilities, says Sherwood Chillingworth.

A day after the Oak Tree Racing Association received a one-year reprieve from its landlord at Santa Anita Park, the organization's executive vice president said he wants to work out a long-term lease arrangement for the autumn race meet with Del Mar, beginning in 2011.

Such a move, if it were to occur, would have Breeders' Cup implications, noted Sherwood Chillingworth, who heads operations for Oak Tree, which has a strong relationship with the event.

"Oh, yes, I think we're hopeful of doing something with Breeders' Cup (at Del Mar) for sometime after 2011," Chillingworth said.

He said that the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club has shown a strong interest in holding the five-week fall meet beginning in 2011. Del Mar is part of the state fairgrounds system under the auspices of the 22nd Agricultural District.

Craig Fravel, president and general manager of the DMTC, could not be reached for comment.

Chillingworth said Del Mar would be a preferable location for the not-for-profit racing association over Hollywood Park because of the threat of redevelopment at the Inglewood, Calif., facility.

"They might not be there in a year," Chillingworth said of Hollywood Park June 23. "Hollywood would have made sense for this season because of the problem of getting everyone back down there (to San Diego County). But we would like to have something permanent. We don't want to be nomads."

Oak Tree has operated at Santa Anita since its founding in 1969, but the lease it had with the Arcadia, Calif., track through 2016 was terminated by MI Developments in mid-May, shortly after the company took control of many Magna Entertainment Corporation assets in a bankruptcy court-approved reorganization.

During a lengthy California Horse Racing Board meeting at Hollywood Park June 22, racing mogul Frank Stronach, chairman of MID, made it clear he no longer wanted Oak Tree as a tenant at Santa Anita, which Stronach's Magna Entertainment bought in 1998. He said the lease arrangement "did not make economic sense."

But at the urging of his friend and fellow horse owner Mace Siegel, Stronach suddenly changed his mind and verbally agreed to allow Oak Tree to remain for the 2010 season, though he emphasized that would be the end of the relationship.

Chillingworth was close to executing a deal for 2010 with Jack Liebau at Hollywood Park before the surprise change of heart by Stronach. While appreciative of Liebau's efforts on Oak Tree's behalf, he admitted he was relieved.

"We've been here 41 years; that's a lot of moving to do," Chillingworth said. "Making two moves in two years would have been kind of hard."

Oak Tree's meet begins Sept. 29 this year and runs to Oct. 31.

Oak Tree's race dates coincide with the Breeders' Cup, and it has hosted the rich racing event on five occasions at Santa Anita, most recently in 2008 and 2009. Del Mar has expressed interest in holding the Breeders' Cup as well, but needs to widen its turf course in order to be seriously considered, Chillingworth said.

"Between our revenues and theirs, we would have enough to complete the widening of the turf course, which is something the Breeders' Cup wants to see done, as well as a few other things that would be needed," he said.

The Oak Tree meet follows a three-week stand at Fairplex Park in Pomona on the Southern California racing schedule, which would create a logistical problem at Del Mar.

Chillingworth noted that most trainers and staff have housing arrangements for the summer months in the seaside area 20 miles north of downtown San Diego, but not for autumn.

"We will probably have to work something out with transportation in order to get the horses and people down there," he said.

An additional five weeks at Del Mar would give the track 13 weeks of racing annually.