05/17/2010 11:00PM

Charles resigns as Santa Anita president


ARCADIA, Calif. - The midweek resignation of Santa Anita track president Ron Charles adds to the growing list of challenges facing owner MI Developments.

Charles on Tuesday confirmed his resignation as president and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Turf Club, which conducts racing at Santa Anita. Charles, track president since fall 2004, said Wednesday was to be his last day.

"It's been something I have been thinking about for a long time," Charles said, without offering specifics. Charles said he met privately Sunday with Frank Stronach, chairman of MID. "I told him it was time to step down," Charles said.

Though it occurred during a time of much uncertainty, the resignation was not a total surprise. Charles in recent months hinted his departure was imminent; the resignation may have been delayed by bankruptcy proceedings of Magna Entertainment.

Magna Entertainment filed for bankruptcy in March 2009; a judge last month approved a plan that allowed Magna Entertainment to transfer the majority of its racing assets to MID, its largest creditor. Stronach had controlled both companies. The bankruptcy ruling allows MID to terminate contracts signed by Magna Entertainment.

Among the first MID actions was the surprise May 12 announcement to void its annual lease agreement with Oak Tree Racing Association, which hosts a fall race meet at Santa Anita. Oak Tree's board of directors was scheduled to meet this week to discuss its options, including the feasibility of holding the meet at Hollywood Park or Del Mar.

"I just hope MID and Oak Tree can reach an agreement," Charles said.

Charles said general manager George Haines would remain at Santa Anita. Haines did not return a phone message requesting comment. Dennis Mills, MID chief executive officer, also declined to comment on a successor. Mills said he would elaborate later.

Charles is the latest in a string of executives to leave the top Magna post in California since Stronach purchased Santa Anita in 1998. Bill Baker, Cliff Goodrich, Lonny Powell, Jack Liebau, and Jim McAlpine preceded Charles.

The five-year tenure of Charles coincided with the installation of synthetic surfaces. Santa Anita has spent an estimated $24 million on synthetic surfaces, which have fallen short of expectations regarding drainage, maintenance costs, and consistency. Stronach favors a return to dirt. The Magna Entertainment bankruptcy resolution may clear the way for reinstallation of dirt.

The synthetic-surface issue was problematic for Charles, whose accessibility and pleasant demeanor otherwise made him one of the most well-liked racing executives in California.

"Obviously, I have a warm spot in my heart for Santa Anita, and certainly hope that things can improve," he said. "Nationally, racing is struggling now and more so in California. We need to take a look at how we are doing business."