05/20/2010 11:00PM

Board backs Oak Tree on race dates


The California Horse Racing Board passed a motion on Thursday stating that Oak Tree Racing Association holds racing dates for five weeks this fall, and can race at any Thoroughbred track in Southern California if a lease agreement with its longtime landlord Santa Anita Park is not reached.

Oak Tree, a not-for-profit company, was scheduled to race at Santa Anita from Sept. 29 to Oct. 31, but its lease with Magna International Developments, the owner of Santa Anita, was voided by Magna last week.

That set off a series of events last weekend that led Del Mar and Hollywood Park officials to offer their facilities to Oak Tree, in the event that an agreement is not reached between Oak Tree and Magna. The two sides are scheduled to discuss lease terms in early June. Oak Tree officials have stated a desire to remain at Santa Anita.

At Thursday's racing board meeting at Golden Gate Fields in Albany, Calif., racing board officials condemned MID's decision to void the lease. The existing lease was approved by a bankruptcy court in Delaware in late April as part of the settlement between bankrupt Magna Entertainment and MID. The plan would transfer Magna Entertainment's assets -- including its racetracks -- to MID in exchange for eliminating the debt Magna Entertainment owes MID.

Thursday's motion affirmed Oak Tree's right to the dates in 2010, and was approved by a 6-0 vote. One commissioner did not attend.

"It affirms the dates are not Santa Anita's, they are Oak Tree's," the racing board's chairman, Keith Brackpool, said after Thursday's meeting. "If you talk to everybody this thing could go a number of ways. It could stay at Santa Anita."

Brackpool said that Oak Tree's executive vice president, Sherwood Chillingworth, "said that was his board's preference. That would result in a more permanent home for the Breeders' Cup. We want to give assurance to Oak Tree they could go somewhere else."

Brackpool said he expects the two sides to have amicable negotiations on new lease terms. "They both made positive statements," he said. "They look forward to working with each other. I don't think it should have come to this.

"MID looked at this and said we have a short period of time to determine if these are the terms of the lease. They canceled the old one and began discussions on a new one. I don't think they took into consideration perception against reality."

The absence of a lease has affected Oak Tree's discussions with Breeders' Cup about making Oak Tree a permanent, or frequent, host of the popular autumn racing series. Oak Tree hosted the Breeders' Cup in 2008 and 2009.

As the new owner of Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, MID received a temporary license at Thursday's meeting to operate the current race meeting at Golden Gate Fields and the current simulcasting business at Santa Anita. Board officials stressed that it is illegal for one entity to own more than one racetrack, a rule that had been waived in the past for Magna Entertainment.

Brackpool said the MID's licenses for Pacific Racing Association, the subsidiary that operates Golden Gate Fields, and the Los Angeles Turf Club, the subsidiary that operates the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, will be discussed at the racing board's July meeting.