CHRB Finds Hollywood Sale in Racing's Interest

The California Horse Racing Board put an important stamp of approval on the sale of Hollywood Park at its commission meeting Thursday at Del Mar by unanimously okaying the deal with the Bay Meadows' Land Company in accordance with state racing law.

Because Stockbridge Capital Partners, the general partner in Bay Meadows, would also have financial stakes as general partner in Hollywood Park, the board was required under state provisions to determine that racing law will be better served by having an entity with dual interest. The $260 million sale of Hollywood Park to Bay Meadows Land by Churchill Downs Inc. is scheduled to close Sept. 23. The CHRB would still need to approve an operating license for the new owners.

In a separate vote, the board also unanimously approved a license application for the new owners to operate a simulcast facility at Hollywood Park conditioned on the sale becoming final.

"As I see it, it's pretty inevitable that we approve it," commission chairman John Harris said.

The Bay Meadows Racing Association will take over Hollywood Park's operation once the sale is completed. Jack Liebau, the association's president, told the board that racing interest would not have been served had the Bay Meadows group not been successful because chances were good that another company would not have been interested in continuing the racetrack.

To a question from a board member about what Bay Meadows has planned for the future of Hollywood Park, Liebau responded, "Some of (the bidders) weren't interested in racing at all. Here, your approval will assure that Hollywood Park will operate as it has for some time to come. We have to recognize that some racetracks are now more valuable and have a higher and better use than as a racetrack. We are trying to change that. In the north (part of the state), field sizes are improving and the show is getting better.

"We can do all the marketing in the world, but if you don't have a good show, people aren't going to support it," Liebau added. Efforts to improve the sport through legislative means would continue under the new ownership, he said.

The Bay Meadows group has immediate plans to replace Hollywood Park's current turf course and install a polytrack surface for the main track at the Inglewood, Calif., site, Liebau said, but the new owners need assurances from the CHRB that they will have an adequate number of dates allocated before making such an investment, which he estimated at $5 million.

"It1s just not feasible without getting the dates on the calendar," he said. "You've championed a three-year dates plan that would provide" the assurances Bay Meadows requires.

In other action, the CHRB approved applications to conduct race meetings from Oak Tree Racing Association (Sept. 8-Nov, 6) at Santa Anita Park, the Fresno County Fair (Oct. 5-16) and Golden Gate Fields (Oct. 19-Jan, 29, 2006).

The board also heard a report from Craig Fravel, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club executive vice president, on the status of a head-on camera for the stretch run on the track's turf course. Fravel said that contrary to opinion, the camera does exist and has been in use by stewards, who have made some controversial decisions during the current meet. He said the camera positioning has changed but that a permanent placement will have to wait until next season.

"Barns that are to the east side of the racetrack are going to be torn down after the meeting to make way for new barns," Fravel said. "It didn't make sense to install a $150,000 camera there when we were going to have to tear down the barns."

Dave Payton, representing the totalizer company Scientific Games Racing, told the board that alternate selections for multi-race bets like the Pick 4 and Pick 6 became available to bettors this week at Del Mar. The alternate selection had disappeared when totalizer companies instituted new procedures to guard against technology frauds like the one that was uncovered following the 2003 Breeders' Cup Pick 6.