04/07/2013 5:45PM

California's uncertain 2014 racing calendar topic of emergency meeting at Santa Anita


ARCADIA, Calif. - The board of directors of the Thoroughbred Owners of California has scheduled an emergency meeting at Santa Anita on Thursday to discuss the uncertainty surrounding the 2014 racing schedule and future stabling issues at Southern California tracks.

At a 90-minute open forum on Sunday, TOC chairman Mike Pegram said the TOC has significant reservations about methods to finance a proposed expansion of Barretts Racing at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.

The Southern California racing calendar is likely to undergo significant changes in 2014 if Betfair Hollywood Park is closed for commercial and real estate development. Hollywood Park has guaranteed that it will race through December of this year, but has not committed to being open for racing and training in 2014. Many industry officials do not expect the track to operate in any capacity in 2014.

As a result, Barretts Racing has emerged as a likely venue for expanded racing dates. Del Mar and Santa Anita are expected to request longer race meetings in 2014 from the California Horse Racing Board when racing dates are awarded later this year.

Los Alamitos Racecourse in Cypress, Calif., which conducts a year-round Quarter Horse meeting, made presentations to industry groups earlier this year to expand its track to accommodate Thoroughbred racing. Los Alamitos withdrew the offer in late March, citing disagreements with the California Thoroughbred Trainers association about expansion plans and no desire to fight for racing dates with Fairplex Park.

The TOC board recently reviewed a proposal from Barretts Racing to finance $20 million worth of expansion and improvements with a 30-year bond backed by racing purses. Pegram said the proposal left the TOC board “concerned” about the financial commitments required.

“We have seen the [Fairplex] plan and the economics on it will be tough,” Pegram said. “Thirty years is a long time to bind the purse agreement.”

Pegram said one solution would be contributions from Del Mar and Santa Anita, paid for through their expanded racing dates, to help offset the costs of the expansion. He expressed further concern about finding revenue sources to pay for year-round stabling at Fairplex.

At Thursday’s meeting, Pegram said the Barretts Racing proposal will be discussed in further detail, along with racing dates for Del Mar and Santa Anita.

 “Hopefully there will be some consensus on dates for Del Mar and Santa Anita and find out what the industry needs, what is affordable,  and what is doable,” Pegram said. ”The board has more due diligence to do.”

Some proposals for a 2014 racing schedule would have the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting running through mid-June, instead of its customary closure on the third weekend of April. Del Mar, which runs a seven-week summer meeting, could seek a fall meeting, and has stated a desire to host a Breeders’ Cup meeting at that time of the year in the future.

Barretts Racing at Fairplex could operate short meetings of three to four weeks in duration from mid-June to mid-July, and from mid-November to mid-December. The track currently hosts a three-week meeting in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Fair each September.

One major concern expressed by the TOC regarding the expected closure of Hollywood Park is the loss of stalls for a second barn area in the Los Angeles area. Barretts Racing at Fairplex can accommodate more than 1,000 horses, but officials there have stated they also want additional racing dates.

The San Luis Rey Downs training center in Bonsall, Calif., in northern San Diego County, is owned by the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, and has emerged as a potential site for expanded off-track stabling.

The Stronach Group recently resumed operating the training center from a leaseholder, doing so with the intent of installing turf gallops and accommodating approximately 500 horses, Pegram told the open forum. San Luis Rey Downs currently houses approximately 100 horses.