02/21/2011 3:47AM

Dating Game


First of all, my profound apologies for dropping off the blog grid these last few weeks. No excuses, except for the fact that I was stunned into an uncharacteristic silence by overwhelming events. I'm better now.

But really, how could "Secretariat" be so completely ignored by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences? Sure, it was no "Seabiscuit," but to be shut out for nominations. I mean, "Tron" got a nomination. Dido got a nomination. Dido! Oscars schmoscars.

The political news was no better. The plight of Thoroughbred racing failed to get a sniff in either the State of the Union address or the federal budget proposals unveiled by the President and the House of Representatives. Don't they know about the casino companies who are growing weary of subsidizing the racing side of their operations? Didn't they hear that New York stuck a fork in the Off-Track Betting Corp.? And how could they ignore California's ham-handed increase in the takeout of multiple-horse wagers, and how a resulting players' boycott of California races rode the crest of a protest wave that reached as far as Cairo, Egypt, and Madison, Wisconsin?

Ah, California, my home sweet home. Did anyone catch the California Horse Racing Board's meeting the other day, during which the commissioners were asked to choose between bald-faced corporatism and open-handed charity? Okay, maybe it wasn't as simple as that, but contary conclusions are hard to draw.

At stake were the early fall dates of the 2011 racing calendar -- all of October and bits and pieces of September and November. On the one hand, there was Frank Stronach with all of his corporate clout and the giddy leverage that comes with the unbridled ability to spend other people's money. On the other, it was Sherwood Chillingworth, representing the Oak Tree Racing Association, which had been benevolent stewards of the early fall dates for 42 years (41 of them at Santa Anita). In the end, it came down to location location location. Stronach had Santa Anita Park to offer, but not for Oak Tree as a tenant, leaving Oak Tree with only Hollywood Park available as a home. The racing board, in a slap at Hollywood about as subtle as a pie in the face, decided that Santa Anita was the preferable choice, leaving Oak Tree out in the cold.

What did Oak Tree do disillusion Stronach? It's a mystery. The easier answer is what did Hollywood Park do to deserve the ill will of the racing board, to the extent that they would not grant Oak Tree a second meet there. For starters, Hollywood has trouble drawing crowds like Santa Anita's, though by historical standards neither can brag. However, because it answers to a development company that already razed one California racetrack (Bay Meadows) Hollywood Park management has been unable to commit to more than a year of racing at a time. This rankles the racing commissioners to no end, since the CHRB would like to issue a five-year calendar.

Short of that, it looks like the racing board will begin to revise the calendar piecemeal over the next few seasons. If awarding Santa Anita the early fall dates was any indication, the commissioners will be inclined to favor Santa Anita down the line when there are head-to-head challenges for date blocs. It is no secret that Stronach covets the spring dates of May and June traditionally operated by Hollywood Park. There is even reason to believe that sooner than later Del Mar will want to break out of its seven-week summer session, perhaps with a reinvigorated Oak Tree Racing Association along for the ride.

Given the shortage of starters in California races, the recent declines in handle, and the state's ongoing flirtation with synthetic surfaces, the racing calendar would not seem to be a priority. Calendars, however, promote stability, and stability is one thing California could use right now. 





Gregg More than 1 year ago
The movie was awful. To treat the story from all perspectives as they tried to do would have taken a movie longer than Saving Private Ryan. They needed to make a choice to either focus on the horse racing industry aspects of the story - great for people like us. Or, they could have illuminated the drama of the personal relationships surrounding the horse - compelling for all while possibly drawing in the uninitiated with a desire to learn more about this sport.
dave stein More than 1 year ago
as fan of the site, i was happy to see those early fall dates awarded to santa anita. while i do not know him personally, but from reading his public statements and seeing him speak at chrb mtgs, it is difficult to have any liking for mr. stronach. it is not difficult, though, to appreciate that he is a track owner that, if for nothing more than profit, cares about how his track operates. the owners of hollywood park, are simply waiting for the right offer to sell the land and be rid of horse racing. of course, all of that does not mean that mr. stronach should simply be allowed to have things his way. it does seem that the chrb, and various voices of the industry, should continue to engage mr. stronach in doing the right thing(s). i have no first hand knowledge, but have heard discussion of upgrades seriously needed on the backstretch. if true, it is a shame that mr. stronach and his team of executives have been allowed to ignore this issue. oak tree seems to be a wonderful benevolent association. the stakes that are traditionally run during the oak tree meet are meaningful and wonderful races that santa anita does indeed want. not being sure what the financial arrangement has been, is it possible that while not reaping the benefit of all of those early fall racing dates, that the oak tree association can continue to earn money for charitable contributions from the stakes dates? can mr. stronach and team feel the implication of further reward (additional spring/summer dates) for cooperation (fixing the back side, helping oak tree remain a meaningful philanthropic force). as far as additional dates being run at santa anita in the spring and summer, if the surfaces can handle it, i am all for it. in this current environment, perhaps fewer days of racing are a necessity anyway. i guess i am saying that as a racing fan, personalities aside, i am all for santa anita having more racing dates. while they could certainly improve their product, they are at least, in the game.
RoMo More than 1 year ago
. . .. Is it just me .. or is Frank Stronach to TB racing .. what Gordon GeKKo is to Wall Street ..?
Gregg More than 1 year ago
I couldn't have said it better myself!
Bob More than 1 year ago
I'll tell you what Hollywood park did to racing in CA. The owners decided it was more valuable as land to develop another mall and decided to close it. Then the economy tanked and they decided we can't build a mall so let's keep racing until things get better, but not spend any money on upkeep of the place. Yeah they spruced it up a bit for the Oaktree meet but that place is almost as depressing as Suffolk downs on a rainy simulcast day.
Chris Garrity More than 1 year ago
This is like watching a car crash in slow motion. First the takeout increase; now this. California - my beloved California racing! - is soon going to be as relevant as the greyhound tracks in Arizona. And, sadly, the racetracks in California will deserve it. Virtually all of their problems are self-inflicted. It's so sad.
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Hi Jay, Good to see you back. Oak Tree is in a bad spot and I don't see how it survives. So many these days feel charity begins at home, and maybe it does. Sad, nonetheless, when there is no room for an Oak Tree. As far as the movie "Secretariat" goes, I quit counting "historical inaccuracies" at 20 (I mean they had Sham winning the Wood). But, when it was all said and done, I was strangely satisfied. Now if at the end they had "Big Red" turn around and say, "You looking at me. You looking at me. There ain't nobody else here, so you must be looking at me." Maybe then, the movie could of done better with the Oscar voters. Best Performance by a quadruped: The envelope please...