07/12/2010 11:34AM

Man With the Plan

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As ordered by the CHRB, MI Developments has delivered a plan for the operation of its California holdings for consideration at the July 22 board meeting at Del Mar. The substance of the package remains confidential, but the reason for its submission could not be more public. Essentially, the racing board wants to know why established rules and regulations should be suspended to allow MID to operate both Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields, as well as the XpressBet wagering platform.

Raising the question at all seems like a bit of a jolt, since the waiver was granted in the very recent past. Magna Entertainment Corp, MID's predecessor, bought Santa Anita in 1999, then Golden Gate, and developed XpressBet. The Bay Meadows Land Co., a real estate group, owned and operated Bay Meadows when it purchased Hollywood Park. Clearly, the racing board has been predisposed to grant such multiple licenses.

Whether or not that is a good thing is now in question by the current CHRB. The yanking of the Oak Tree Racing Association lease by MID, just weeks after their official takeover of Santa Anita, was a traumatic jolt that inspired some commissioners to search their arsenal for punative action. The fact that MID chairman Frank Stronach backed down and granted Oak Tree a one-year lease agreement for 2010 may have mitigated the board's displeasure. Maybe. The substance of the MID plan submitted for consideration will go a long way toward dictating the mood of the room at Del Mar on July 22.

If Stronach comes clean and is completely honest about his hopes and dreams for a greater Santa Anita meet, he would be proposing that the track operates for most of the year, three days a week. He would argue that Santa Anita at the very least deserves a crack at the dates now commanded by Hollywood Park. He could point out that Hollywood Park's inability to generate any kind of on-track business should be held against them, and that someone else should be given a chance to market the sport effectively.

And he would have a point. The numbers, if accurate, are beyond depressing. Last Friday night, a reported 8,906 showed up at Hollywood Park for an eight-race card that ended with a concert by The Wailers. The on-track handle barely topped $800,000. On Saturday, the Hollywood Gold Cup/Triple Bend program drew a reported gate of 6,195. At least they bet a million more than their Friday night counterparts, who were otherwise occupied with trying to figure out who shot the sheriff, and what's that delightful smell?

If the California racing industry is willing to let Hollywood Park continue to downsize the public's acceptance of the sport, it will get exactly what it deserves -- complete marginalization. Stronach and MID could come out blazing with a comprehensive plan to reimagine the entire racing calendar to everyone's advantage. They could step up with a commitment to a redistribution of the takeout that would reward the people actually putting on the show. They could promise a vigorous and well-funded marketing campaign to reintroduce horse racing to a lost generation of fans.

Or, Stronach could reiterate his desire to "sit down" and talk about vague notions he might have of a racing world he sees in his own mind. Sit-downs are fine, and it's smart to aim before you fire, but at some point the leadership class needs to clear the table of petty debris and cut to the heart of the matter. Otherwise, you have what Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Iraq and Afghanistan, described in a New Yorker interview last year:   

"People sit in a room, they don't air their real differences, a false and sloppy concensus papers over those underlying differences, and they go back to their offices and continue to work at cross purposes, even actively undermining each other."

****

For all the hopes and delerious speculation, it has become clear that both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra are returning to their default settings for their midsummer appearances -- the filly at Monmouth Park for the Lady's Secret on July 24 and the mare at Del Mar for the Clement Hirsch two weeks later, on Aug. 7.

In the broadest sense, we should consider ourselves lucky they're showing up at all. Modern racing is more an exercise in lowered expectations than aspirations to greatness. There seem to be ever more reasons not to run. Quality Road, arguably the best male horse in the land, is sighted about as often as the dodo. And when they do run...well, a certain trainer out West was complaining about his horse carrying 123 pounds in a stakes race the other day, when on the same program a maiden won at 9 furlongs giving away eight pounds to the runner-up, 124-116, and $8,000 claimers were carrying 124 and 122. Gimme a break.

Hats off to Monmouth Park, though, for appropriating the Lady's Secret brand for their fancy new race. Recall that the name was foolishly abandoned by the Oak Tree Racing Association in favor of that new flavor, Zenyatta (although New Jersey has a legitimate claim, since Lady's Secret did romp in the 1986 Molly Pitcher), and now Zenyatta faces the embarrassing possibility of running in the Zenyatta Stakes during the Oak Tree meet, in her final prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Talk about courting bad karma.

Rachel Alexandra will be training for her Monmouth race at Saratoga, which is a touchy situation, given the highly competitive atmosphere between the two meets this summer. You can hardly blame NYRA president Charlie Hayward for blasting owner Jess Jackson for not staying at the spa to run in the Ruffian, referring to the decision as a "shocking act of disloyalty" and a "shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own."

No wait a minute. That was Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert venting after losing the bidding war for LeBron James. My bad. Hayward was exceedingly diplomatic, regretting the fact that Rachel Alexandra would be running down the road but holding out the hope that she might still make a New York appearance before the year is through.

John Holditch More than 1 year ago
Mr. Jackson's shameful campaign to deny Zenyatta Horse of the Year honors after she ran her record to 14-0 winning the Breeders' Cup Classic; his attempts to avoid an on-track meeting between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta reminiscent of Samuel Riddle's efforts to dodge Seabiscuit's match race against War Admiral; and finally his cowardly no-show in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn when Mr. Cella had put up a five million dollar purse to arrange a meeting between Rachel and Zenyatta are all more shameful than Mr. Jackson and Rachel abandoning Saratoga for a softer spot at Monmouth. Mr. Hayward should know better than to expect Mr. Jackson to do the honorable thing.
Syncopate More than 1 year ago
If that certain trainer thought 123 was too much weight, I guess he won't be running in the Breeder's Cup Classic where his charge will be asked to carry 126
Virgin Queen More than 1 year ago
quoting ambassador holbrooke 2 a bunch of horse players is like quoting shakespear 2 the bride of frankenstein.
C More than 1 year ago
"...any chance Zenyatta may opt for the Pacific Classic?" There is a ZERO percent chance of that happening. Absolutely none.
concerned More than 1 year ago
what we really need at santa anita and golden gate is a new owner. someone who really cares about racing and who makes it all happen,( the racing Fans. ) thats what counts. now that Joe Harper is semi retired , he fits the description.
Diceman More than 1 year ago
Hi Jay, Jay, now the hard part of you job: It's clear that our 3 West Coast major tracks are in great jepordy. West Coast Track Owners must immediately appeal to the Californioa State Legislature and request authority to build and operate Las Vegas style "Racinos" on their grounds. I totally disagree with your Bloggers who believe Slots and Table Games are a temporary fix and not a permanent solution. Live racing, as we know it, is a dying industry. To survive and prosper our West Coast Tracks, and all other major USA Tracks, must be permitted to operate "Racinos" or they will perish from the Planet! Another important conclusion: All our Racetracks were badly misled when Simulcasting, Internet Betting and OTB's were introduced to the Amwerican betting public. These 3 new innovations have literally destroyed live racing. Over-all handle on site and thru betting platforms mentioned above, have destroyed the quality and pleasure of live racing. Look at the pathetic Track Attendance Numbers at Aqu, Bel and Hol this year. Our minor Tracks are more permently damaged. River Downs, Ellis Park and similar tracks are slowly dying. We simply forgot to give them a decent burial with Taps and Formal Prayers! Of course, Racetrack "takeouts" for all wagers is ruinous. It's killing our Professional and Novice Bettors It must be lowered immediately! While it a cost cutting mood, let's also reduce the cost of Parking, Programs, Racing Forms, Food and Drinks! Jay, wwe need your help. Please,with all the Passion and Brillance you can muster, begin a crusade for "Racinos" at our dying Racetracks! If you are successful, I guarantee that Race Track Managenment someday will build Monuments in your Likeness and Memory. Bet On It! Diceman
eeebayou More than 1 year ago
I hear that Mace Seigel's solution for saving racing in California is quite dynamic. Something about taking the top male handicap horse in the West and shipping him East is a pretty creative swerve.
robertSD More than 1 year ago
As also just posted on FormBlog: On this and other horse racing blogs I always read about how "bad" the area is where Hollywood Park resides -- Inglewood, CA. Yet in more than 30 years of attending the races there (on all days and some nights) I have not once had an issue. I am curious if anyone else has, in fact, had an issue? Or is it simply a matter of painting a broad brush on Hollywood Park. I suppose I am a bit biased as I was born (OK it was quite a long time ago) right across the street at Centinela Hospital. Just my two cents. - robertSD
Curt A Vassallo More than 1 year ago
Jay, When are some people goona get over the fact that Rachel won '09 HOY on the track w/her '09 HOY campaign ? & the only obstacle to a possible run at HOY for Zenyatta in any year, was not the horse, but the one & only J. Moss. & guess what ? This is his 3rd year at it. People, it's deja vu, all over again. J. Moss is up to his old tricks. A 3 peat....
John Morris More than 1 year ago
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