Significant changes to the property at Santa Anita Park have been proposed in the past and many went by the wayside, but the tone from Tim Ritvo, The Stronach Group's chief operating officer, Jan. 7 was different.
What Ritvo stressed Sunday was that the drastic changes this time around—ideas to expand the barn area, build a second turf course, expand the main track, and build a brand-new training facility in nearby West Covina, Calif.—are not only desired, but essential.
"For racing to continue on, this has to happen." the executive said. "If this doesn't happen, we're in trouble."
The first step, Ritvo said, is to build about 1,000 new stalls to the north of the main oval at Santa Anita, an area that currently serves as a parking lot. While the master plan—which would include extending the main track from a mile to 1 1/8 miles, widening the turf course enough to make two separate grass courses, adding an L-shaped training track for jogging on the northern border of the property, and moving the inside training track slightly to accommodate those changes, as well as adding an outdoor mall that would run up to the paddock area—might be far off in the future, adding the new barn area would also require approvals for various reasons from the City of Arcadia and Los Angeles County. Ritvo wouldn't put a timetable on any of the changes, but said the barn addition could cost an estimated $12-15 million.
"My main goal and objective is to get the barns built, because it's overdue," Ritvo said. "If we brought in the other stuff, that's important too. The way racing is moving, they like to run on the grass and they like to bet on the grass races. Horses come back better and (the races are) more competitive. We need to look at that if we're going to add days going forward."
Ritvo's mention of adding racing days didn't come out of nowhere. The tracks owned by The Stronach Group in both regions of California—Golden Gate Fields in the North and Santa Anita in the South—have made it well known in recent years that they'd like to occupy more of the racing calendar.
Add the tenuous future of racing and stabling at Los Alamitos Race Course, and The Stronach Group could fill an even larger role regarding housing racehorses.
"There's the two things I need. I need stalls and I need a bigger turf course," said Ritvo, who also called expanded turf racing "the golden goose" for the region. "Once you get the turf course and the stalls, it's a true commitment. It's an investment in the next 20 years of racing. And there's no place where you could do it where you would get as much value as here. When we did it at Laurel (Park), we still have winter months, so that's eight months we can use (the turf course). You do it in Florida and you do it in California, and you can run all year."
Also under consideration by The Stronach Group is the acquisition of 400 acres of land in West Covina, about 10 miles southeast Santa Anita, to construct a 1,400-stall training center. The facility, which would be built on an old landfill site, would play a similar role to The Stronach Group's Palm Meadows Training Center. Palm Meadows sits about 45 miles north of Gulfstream Park. Ritvo said the topic will be discussed during a public meeting in West Covina Jan. 15.
All the extra stabling plans, if they come to fruition, would likely put an end to operations at the Stronach-owned San Luis Rey Training Center, which lost about 250 stalls in a devastating fire Dec. 7 that also killed 46 horses on the grounds.
Ritvo said the short-term plan is to construct 200-300 stalls in the area where the fire destroyed nine barns and to have the facility reopen Feb. 1.
The idea to expand the mall to the southwest of Santa Anita property, and have an outdoor shopping area run up to the paddock area of the track, is similar to the setup at Gulfstream, which also has an adjacent shopping area.
"Racing, to be sustainable on its own any more, is a tough sell," Ritvo said. "When you get 3,000 people on a Thursday, you need to do something innovative."