California Dates Discussed; Hollywood Park Objects

Cementing the 2007 racing schedule in the state remained the focus of the California Horse Racing Board Strategic Alliance Planning Committee, which met Sept. 19 for the third time.

The racing calendar in the Golden State hasn't gone through any major modifications in more than 20 years, a trend that hasn't kept up with the changing climate of the sport in general, according to many members of the state's racing industry.

"One thing we do know is that racing in California is going downhill," CHRB member John Amerman said. "Times have changed, and we've got to change and we hold it in our power to come up with other (options.)"

CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro presented his suggested schedule for racing in both the North and the South, which included several four-day weeks, a reduction in days overall, and a single block of dates for the Northern California fairs.

"(The schedule) is what I think is in the best interests of both the North and the South," Shapiro told the committee. "It includes a reduction of dates when racing is most vulnerable to the weather. There will be no six-day racing weeks, and some will run just four days (in the North.)"

Racing in the Southern half of the state would stay the same, Shapiro proposed, with the Los Angeles Turf Club operating for 84 days, Hollywood Park for 90 days over two meets in the spring and fall, Del Mar for 43 days in the summer, Fairplex Park for 16 days in September, and Oak Tree at Santa Anita for 30 days.

Hollywood Park track president Jack Liebau objected to the suggested dates for his track.

"(The 60 dates in the spring) is the smallest allocated in the history of Hollywood," Liebau said. "We spent $8 million installing (a synthetic track) and what happens? We get our dates cut. There has to be some quid pro quo, I'm sorry. If we commit to more than three years (of additional racing at the facility), we could get nothing.

"We've never been told what we'd get if we commit (to three more years)."

Under Shapiro's draft proposal for the Northern part of the state, Golden Gate Fields would run 92 days, Bay Meadows 92 days, and the fairs for 63 days in 2007. In all, 37 racing dates could be eliminated in Northern California.

Several representatives of the fair venues in Northern California objected to the idea of running overlapping meets, which Shapiro scheduled preliminarily from July 5 through Sept. 30. He said county fair dates normally correspond with racing dates.

"We have to keep the horse racing industry in the state profitable," Shapiro told the fair representatives. "We have to find a way for racing to lead the way and not have the fairs lead the way."

After conversing privately for several minutes, California Association of Racing Fairs committee member Joe Barkett said the group would be willing to accept the single block of racing dates allocated and would get together and hammer out a dates agreement to present to the Strategic Alliance Committee at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for the second week of October.

"This particular block does not work," Barkett said. "But the block concept we can work with. We're thinking primarily of shifting the calendar, and rather than pushing into September, we'd prefer to move (the dates) to start in June."

The board is set to make its final dates decision in October and make official allocations in November.