2011 Oak Tree Race Dates Remain Undecided

A decision on what to do with autumn race dates traditionally held by the Oak Tree Racing Association was put off by the California Horse Racing Board until a meeting next month.

Meeting at Hollywood Park Nov. 9, the CHRB accepted the request of the state's trainer and owner organizations to hold off for a month before deciding the Oak Tree question.

Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, cited complications with a request from Santa Anita Park to assume the Sept. 28-Oct. 31 dates instead of Oak Tree.

"All kinds of issues are in the air," he said. "And we have a new wrinkle at Del Mar (the possible sale of the fairgrounds by the state to the City of Del Mar)."

Additionally, Guy LaMothe, representing the Thoroughbred Owners of California, sought more time to study the results of the recently concluded Oak Tree meet, which ran for the first time at Hollywood Park in 2010. The non-profit racing group, which has an agreement in principle to return to Hollywood in 2011, had operated continuously since 1969 at Santa Anita.

The board scheduled a further meeting Dec. 16 at Hollywood Park.

The CHRB did approve 2011 Thoroughbred dates in Southern California for Santa Anita's winter meet (Dec. 26-April 19), Hollywood Park's spring stand (April 20-July 19) and Del Mar's summer meet (July 20-Sept. 7).

It also gave final approval to a Thoroughbred race dates proposal in Northern California for 2011.

Golden Gate Fields, the only major racing venue in the region, was approved for up to 179 days beginning with a winter/spring meet that goes from Dec. 26 to June 12. Golden Gate's summer/fall stand runs from Aug. 19 to Dec. 18 except for a two-week period for the Big Fresno Fair (Oct. 5-16).

Approval of the winter dates was required so that the board could also okay licenses for the Los Angeles Turf Club (Santa Anita) and Pacific Racing Association (Golden Gate) to operate their meets, which begin Dec. 26.

Santa Anita was approved for 76 days. The Arcadia track will run four days a week (Thursday-Sunday) through February and five days a week (Wednesday-Sunday) in March and April. The Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), with a purse of $1 million, is the top stakes on a program that will be worth nearly $10 million in 2011.

Golden Gate also plans to race four or five days per week during its 104-day meet.

Last year, the board  gave a week of of non-overlapped racing for the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale over the objections of Golden Gate, horsemen and trainers. It compromised this year, giving Ferndale two days when it is not running against Golden Gate (Aug. 17-18) during a meet that lasts from Aug. 12-21.

The Alameda County Fair at Pleasanton dropped a request for some additional dates and will run June 22-July 10 this year.

Other fair meets are San Joaquin County at Stockton (June 15-19), Cal Expo at Sacramento (July 13-24), and Sonoma County at Santa Rosa (July 27-Aug. 14).

In other action, the CHRB approved a pension program for riders in cooperation with the Jockey's Guild. Barry Broad, an attorney representing the Guild, said all 322 jockeys licensed in the state are eligible to participate.

Broad said the pension program is "a defined contribution plan" for jockeys who retire on or after Jan. 1, 2009.

The program was authorized as part of advance deposit wagering legislation passed last year and will be originally funded with about $1.5 million taken from market access fees generated by ADW. Annual contributions should amount to about $650,000.

Broad explained that funds invested collectively will be paid out individually to jockeys based on their participation in California racing. Jockeys must sign up for the program by the end of the year to be eligible for any part of the original funding.

The program is strictly for retirement benefits to jockeys, who must be 50 years old to collect unless they become permanently disabled. Depending on their participation, riders who claim benefits will be paid through a lump sum or an annuity, Broad said.

A board consisting of CHRB and Guild representatives will oversee investments. Seven investment firms have been selected to submit proposals to run the plan, Broad said.

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