05/23/2013 6:31PM

CHRB awards extended dates to Santa Anita and Del Mar

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Barbara D. Livingston
The main Santa Anita meet will run from late December to early July for the next two years.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The changing landscape of West Coast racing will include an unusual twist to the calendar – Santa Anita will stay open into July and Del Mar into the month of December. It used to be the other way around.

The California Horse Racing Board on Thursday gave the industry its first look at a California circuit that will operate next year without Hollywood Park, which will cease racing this December.

At its monthly meeting Thursday in the Cal Expo clubhouse grandstand in Sacramento, the CHRB allocated racing dates for 2014 and 2015, pending conditions to be addressed next week in industry meetings.

Along with standard fall meet at Santa Anita and summer meet at Del Mar, the CHRB voted unanimously to award Santa Anita an extended season from Dec. 26, 2013 through July 6, 2014, and also allocated a five-week fall meet at Del Mar that would run Nov. 5 through Dec. 7. Similar dates were assigned for 2015.

The CHRB also received interest from Los Alamitos to operate a Thoroughbred meet in late December. Fairplex Park is currently out of the running for extended racing dates and could lose closing weekend of the 2015 Los Angeles County Fair meet.

The two-year allocation of dates came near the end of a five-hour meeting that included frequent expressions of frustration from participants. Among the key issues were the issue of off-site stabling. Hollywood’s closure eliminates 1,950 available stalls, placing extra pressure on Santa Anita, San Luis Rey Downs and Los Alamitos.

California Thoroughbred Trainers lobbied strongly for Fairplex to be considered as the main off-site stabling site and urged the CHRB to resolve the stabling and vanning issue before allocating dates.

CHRB chairman David Israel opened discussion of 2014 dates. “I’d like to start with stabling and vanning issues, because everything comes out of that,” he said.

That began a lengthy debate regarding the availability of stalls.

According to Joe Morris, incoming Thoroughbred Owners of California president, there is sufficient stall space already. He said Southern California “has stabling for roughly 2,900 horses” which would be funded by the stabling and vanning fund.

Morris cited 1,900 stalls at Santa Anita, 500 stalls at San Luis Rey Downs pending completion of renovation project later this year, and 500 stalls at Los Alamitos. The current Thoroughbred population in Southern California is about 3,000.

Meanwhile, the CTT supported Fairplex Park in Pomona operating as a year-round training facility.

“We dare not, we ought not, say we cannot afford Pomona,” CTT executive director Alan Balch said. “We need Pomona.”

The CHRB eventually settled on these 2014 dates: Santa Anita, Dec. 26, 2013 through July 6; Del Mar, July 16 through Sept. 3; Fairplex Park, Sept. 4-23; Santa Anita, Sept. 25 through Nov. 2; and Del Mar, Nov. 5 through Dec. 7.

The five-week fall meet at Del Mar – the track originally proposed running four weeks – would run into early December and include the opportunity for the track to host two important Grade 1 races for 2-year-olds – the Futurity for either gender and Starlet, for fillies.

Those races will be run this fall at Hollywood for the last time.

The 2015 dates: Santa Anita, Dec. 26, 2014 through July 5; Del Mar, July 15 through Sept. 7; Fairplex, Sept. 10- 25; Santa Anita, Sept. 26 through Oct. 25; and Del Mar, Oct. 28 through Dec. 6. The shortened Fairplex meet hinges on 2015 Breeders’ Cup location. Fairplex could lose the lucrative closing weekend of the Los Angeles County Fair meet.

The CHRB dates allocation was unanimous by the board, with conditions that will be addressed next week. Those include the Del Mar television signal to which TVG is the current exclusive provider. The CHRB expressed interest that Del Mar could renegotiate its exclusivity agreement and allow HRTV to televise the summer races. The exclusivity arrangement is only for summer; fall is open.

The issue of stabling and vanning will be heard next week in industry meetings, as will the idea of opening Fairplex as a year-round facility. The San Luis Rey Downs expansion project will be addressed.

In a surprise announcement, Brad McKinzie of Los Alamitos said the five-eighth-mile track in Orange County could host a Thoroughbred meet between the end of Del Mar fall and the opening of Santa Anita winter.

“It is our intention, if there are empty weeks in December … to apply for those weeks,” McKinzie said.

He also reiterated that Los Alamitos can be used to accommodate horses displaced by Hollywood.

“We have up to 500 stalls available at Los Alamitos. We are there if you need us,” McKinzie said.

Regarding the five-week fall meet at Del Mar, officials project a $500,000 in daily purses, compared to the approximate $375,000 offered during the fall meet at Hollywood.

Santa Anita president George Haines addressed concerns over the late-spring use of the turf course. Although the Santa Anita turf has never been used in May or June, he does not expect it to be a concern. The Santa Anita turf is rye over Bermuda.

Haines said the track can cut back use of the turf course late in the meet by reducing turf works and carding fewer turf races.