Nearly six months after it began the process of assigning dates for the 2005 Southern California racing season, the California Horse Racing Board approved a schedule Oct. 5 that's nearly identical to the proposal it started with.
The decision, which cuts the Los Angeles Turf Club allocation for Santa Anita Park by one day from last year, from 84 days to 83, did not rest well with track president Jack McDaniel.
"I'm disappointed," the first-year president admitted afterward. "They gave us 83 race dates. They gave us one day back (from the original proposal in April) and gave Hollywood Park three. The most profitable meet in California is being penalized for reasons neither articulated nor justifiable."
McDaniel dominated discussion during the 75-minute special meeting of the board, which was held at the California Exposition racetrack's clubhouse in Sacramento to settle the dates allocation. It was the fifth meeting held by the board or dates committee this year. In the end, CHRB commissioners approved the plan, 4-0, with three members absent.
With its $875 million in handle last year, McDaniel said that LATC accounts for more contributions to purses and to the state than any other racing association. He also said that the track is planning a huge marketing effort and a facility upgrade this season and could use the additional days.
He said handle at Santa Anita would decline by $51 million under the adopted proposal, translating to losses of $2.2 million each in purses and commissions.
"That's way too heavy a hit for the leading association in the state," he contended.
Roy Wood, CHRB's executive director, and Craig Fravel, executive vice president at Del Mar, questioned whether the financial impact of what amounts to one day less of racing would be as great as McDaniel stated.
McDaniel requested an 87-day meeting for 2005 that would have kept intact Santa Anita's traditional Dec. 26 opening and extended it through April 24 while pushing Hollywood Park's fall meet to Christmas Eve.
Because Santa Anita is the only race meeting that has a fixed starting date, McDaniel complained that changes in the calendar affect it most. As the day after Christmas next year falls on a Monday, the track goes from a 17-weekend season to 16.
He argued for a return to a "traditional calendar" - one that existed prior to 2001 - when Santa Anita agreed to one less week of racing in order to provide horsemen with a Christmas break.
"We gave up that week," McDaniel said. "We thought we could make it up. At the time I don't think anyone realized what a tremendous impact it would have. It was an experiment that cost Santa Anita dearly."
Now the Christmas issue "has morphed into a discussion" of Del Mar's closing date (the day after Labor Day) and Oak Tree's Breeders' Cup prep races, he added.
In the end, the board extended the Santa Anita season by one day, adding Monday, April 18, for an 83-day meeting. Hollywood Park, who would have started its spring-summer run on April 20, was granted a delay to April 22 in order to open on a Friday night.
"That will give Santa Anita a stronger closing," said Rick Baedeker, Hollywood Park president. "It gives Hollywood Park a real opening day again. It's a little more special. We've tried a million different things, but when we open on Wednesday, it's just another racing day."
That gives Hollywood Park a 64-day spring/summer meet.
The full schedule is:
--Santa Anita Park (Dec. 26, 2004 to April 18, 83 days)
--Hollywood Park spring/summer (April 22 to July 17, 64 days)
--Del Mar (July 20 to Sept. 7, 43 days)
--Los Angeles County Fair (Sept. 9-25, 17 days
--Oak Tree at Santa Anita (Sept. 28-Nov. 6, 31 days)
--Hollywood Park fall (Nov. 9-Dec. 19 (31 days).