Ron Charles has resigned as president of Santa Anita Park. He said he discussed it with Frank Stronach the weekend of May 15, and that his last day will be May 19.
“After the Preakness (gr. I), I flew to Toronto to see Frank, and we had a very private and very cordial discussion,” Charles said May 18. “I said that it was time to step down, do some other things, and certainly take some time off. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.”
Charles has served as president of Santa Anita’s Los Angeles Turf Club since 2004. A longtime Thoroughbred owner, he was a co-founder and chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners of California before taking the Santa Anita position.
“This becomes kind of a seven-day-a-week job,” Charles said in explaining why he is resigning.
Santa Anita has been part of the bankruptcy proceedings of parent company Magna Entertainment Corp. After the Arcadia, Calif., racetrack was transferred to MI Developments, reports surfaced that MID would void its lease agreement with the Oak Tree Racing Association, which runs the fall meet at Santa Anita and hosted the Breeders’ Cup there in 2008 and 2009.
“Regarding the Oak Tree lease, I certainly hope that MID and Oak Tree can reach an understanding and an agreement,” Charles said. “I think it’s important not only for California racing, but nationally.”
Charles said he had already made the decision to leave before the Oak Tree lease was voided.
Santa Anita has had difficulties with its synthetic surface, first when the original Cushion Track did not drain and was replaced with a Pro-Ride surface, and then with more drainage problems during the 2009-10 meet, when Santa Anita lost days due to heavy rain. Throughout the process with the synthetic surface, Charles has sought the safest surface possible, regardless of whether it was dirt or synthetic.
Several horsemen have advocated a return to a dirt surface. Stonach in interviews earlier this year said he was reluctant to spend the money to replace the surface when he believes racing’s business model is “broken.”
“The final analysis is, if we are able to arrive on a framework that is based on free enterprise, then I would be willing to invest again,” Stronach said in late February. “I cannot put money in over and over and over again if I know the model doesn’t work.”
Charles said he and Stronach did discuss the track surface and whether to make a change.
“I suggested very strongly that he needed to make a decision very soon,” Charles said.
Though Charles said he does not have immediate plans for the future, he intends to remain in the Thoroughbred industry.
“I love racing,” he said. “The industry nationally is in real trouble. California is in a state of crisis. And there isn’t anything out there that we can put our finger on to say, ‘Wow, this will jumpstart California.’ We really get to the point of having the haves and the have-nots with casinos. If we aren’t able to at least remain competitive in California, quality racing does not have a chance. We have to do everything we can to try and increase purses.”
Despite the difficulties in California, Charles pointed out that Santa Anita was the top simulcast signal nationally this past winter.
“What we really need to do in California is to take whatever steps we can to help ourselves,” he said. “Certainly, some of those are revising some ill-conceived simulcast and (advance deposit wagering) models. It is critical that more money be returned to the stakeholders—the purses and the racetracks. These are areas in which I think I can help.”