CHRB Group Focuses On Revamping Dates

Reducing the dates calendar while increasing the overall quality of racing and the possible closure of two major racing facilities remained the focus of the California Horse Racing Board's "Strategic Alliance Planning Committee," which met for the second time at Del Mar on Aug. 28.

Currently, the CHRB is pursuing the possibility of multi-year licensing of all racing facilities, but faces several roadblocks for the long-term because of the eventual development of the Bay Meadows (San Mateo) and Hollywood Park (Inglewood) properties by owner Bay Meadows Land Company.

In addition, CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro said the Northern California racing fairs face changes because many venues are unable to generate sufficient handle to fund adequate purses. The most likely option for many of the members of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, Shapiro warned, would be combining meets at the successful venues.

"We need to help racing now," Shapiro said. "We have to help horsemen; we have to help purses which helps California racing. We have declining handle and purses and certain fairs are not able to generate enough revenue."

The proposed schedule for the 2007 fair circuit includes Stockton in June, Pleasanton in late June and early July, Vallejo in July and late August, Santa Rosa in late July and early August, both Pleasanton and Vallejo again in September, and Fresno in October. A seven-week meeting would be held at an undetermined a fair venue in the fall.

While the fairs expressed interest in adopting the new schedule 2008, Shapiro urged the new dates be adopted by 2007.

Additionally, the harness facility at Cal Expo in Sacramento has expressed interest in returning to its summer Thoroughbred schedule. Officials said they have plans for adding a Thorougbred track and turf course that would help absorb some of the racing dates, should Bay Meadows close permanently.

Joe Barkett, the general manager and director of racing for the Solano County Fair and a member of the CARF racing committee, outlined the plusses and minuses of several potential sites for year-round racing, including Santa Rosa, Pleasanton, Sacramento, and Solano.

"There are ongoing discussions about potential funds for improving a fairgrounds facility," Barkett said. "We're hoping within three months to get enough information to go forward with one proposal, one plan."

Synthetic Track Planned for Golden Gate Fields
Representatives from Golden Gate Fields updated the committee on the installation of their synthetic surface, which is most likely to take place at the conclusion of the track's main season next June.

"We'll be moving 1,300-plus horses out of the stable area," Golden Gate Fields' general manager Robert Hartman explained. "Moving those horses to the fairs only helps the fairs, and we expect it'll be a smooth transition. It will also be the first time in over 20 years that Golden Gate Fields will have an empty barn area, so we'll be able to make the improvements (to the backstretch)."

Additionally, Golden Gate Fields has requested a meeting of 100 continuously run racing dates, which received criticism from the Thoroughbred Owners of California. Bay Meadows and Golden Gate have traditionally raced split seasons in the winter and spring months for decades.

"A split meeting is better for horsemen, which the TOC supports," said Tom Bachman, TOC vice chairman. "Year-round racing is difficult on a track surface. Also, if the fairs want year-round racing, they should be exploring the possibilities of a synthetic surface as well."

Bachman proposed that the state should cut dates in an effort to increase handle and quantity of horses running in the north.

"I propose we get rid of Wednesday racing in January and February, which provides two four-day weeks and two-five day weeks during those months. Currently, Golden Gate Fields' schedule provides for two six-say weeks in January and February due to holidays.

Breeder and longtime California horseman Don Valpredo cautioned the Board about cutting dates.

"If you're going to reshape the tree of horseracing, you have to prune it very carefully," Valpredo said. "There are more ways to deal with the (horse shortage) problem than simply cutting days. We can do that by finding ways to import stables and exchanging signals and open the doors to receive additional sources of income. The bottom line is that, if you don't have horsemen investing in the state, the dates discussion isn't necessary."

Jack Liebau, track president at both Hollywood Park and Bay Meadows, echoed Valpredo's sentiment.

"Call me naive, but I'm not sure how we're going to improve racing by cutting dates," he said.

Liebau also said that, while Hollywood Park has committed to run through 2008, no closing date has been set and track officials have been exploring realistic options of where those prime race dates will be run.

"If Hollywood Park does close, it will bring to the horizon that racing (in the state) does in fact need help," Liebau said. "I think it was obvious that, when (Hollywood Park) was purchased for the price it was purchased for, it was clear there has to be some additional revenue, and we're hopeful we'll be able to find that to help California racing.

"Without pinning down about how many years Hollywood Park has left, we need to explore the alternatives. Two have been suggested, Los Alamitos and Fairplex. Of course, the third would be to just run more dates at Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Fairplex."