05/10/2013 3:52PM

Hollywood Park closing prompts discussions on race dates, stabling

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Barbara D. Livingston
The racing dates at Hollywood Park are expected to be mostly split between Santa Anita and Del Mar next year.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The announcement that Betfair Hollywood Park will cease operations at the end of 2013 has increased urgency among Southern C1alifornia racing officials to develop alternative plans for a year-round racing calendar and stabling venues.

The racing dates issue will be discussed and possibly resolved at a California Horse Racing Board meeting in Sacramento on May 23.

Santa Anita and Del Mar will take control of much of Hollywood Park’s current racing dates for the spring-summer and autumn meetings, with Del Mar planning for a fall meeting in November 2014, Del Mar president Joe Harper said Friday.

Under one blueprint being discussed by the two tracks, Santa Anita’s 2013-14 winter-spring meeting would be extended from late December to July 4 weekend, rather than ending as it currently does in April. Del Mar would run its traditional late summer meeting and an additional meeting in November that would run through Thanksgiving weekend.

Following the Del Mar summer meeting, Barretts Racing at Fairplex Park would run the Los Angeles County Fair meeting in September, followed by the Santa Anita fall meeting, which would begin in late September and run at least through October. There is a possibility that no racing would be conducted in the state in early December.

Regarding a fall meeting at Del Mar, one issue that remains to be resolved is whether Santa Anita or Del Mar will be open on the first weekend of November 2014, which is expected to include the dates of the Breeders’ Cup. The location for the 2014 Breeders’ Cup has not been announced, but Santa Anita is considered a candidate to be host for a third consecutive year.

If Santa Anita does not host the Breeders’ Cup, Harper said that Del Mar wants to be open that weekend to take advantage of lucrative revenue from simulcasting.

“We’ve sent a letter asking for the month of November,” Harper said. “The gripe with Santa Anita is we want the Breeders’ Cup dates. They’ve get the Triple Crown dates, and we could get the Breeders’ Cup dates. We want to come to an amicable agreement.”

Harper said a November meeting at Del Mar would be run on a four-day-a-week basis and would be operated “at cost.” He said some revenue generated from that meeting “will have to go toward industry expenses for a year-round training center.”

Starting with 2015, Del Mar could expand its summer meeting by starting earlier than its typical opening date of the third Wednesday in July. Harper said that the track is restricted to some extent because the property is used for the San Diego County Fair through July 4 each year.

Time is needed for a transition from the end of the fair to the start of the race meeting. If racing does begin earlier at Del Mar, the meet could begin on a weekend rather than a Wednesday, Harper said.

“It depends on how the calendar plays out,” he said. “You have to work around the fair.”

He said an expansion into early September would be limited because of the Los Angeles County Fair dates.

A six-month meeting at Santa Anita from late December to early July would lead to significant changes at that meeting, including a restructuring of the calendar for turf racing. Track officials are considering an interruption in turf racing at Santa Anita next spring to shift turf racing to Golden Gate Fields in Northern California for a few weeks as a way to promote racing on that circuit.

“It could give the turf course at Santa Anita a break and give people an opportunity to race in Northern California,” said Keith Brackpool, the chairman of California operations for The Stronach Group, which owns Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita.

Joe Morris, the current general manager of Golden Gate Fields who becomes president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California next month, said Thursday that “the north should pick up some turf races.”

“We need to get creative and find another way to do a turf festival,” he said. “As an industry, we have to move forward. Where there is change, there is opportunity.”

The issue of offtrack stabling is a big concern for owners and trainers on the circuit.

There are approximately 3,000 Thoroughbreds based at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. Santa Anita has stabling capacity for approximately 1,900 horses, while Fairplex Park has capacity for 1,200. Officials at Fairplex have stated a desire to host year-round stabling.

The San Luis Rey Downs training center in northern San Diego County is expected to take a more prominent role.

Owned by The Stronach Group, San Luis Rey Downs, which has capacity for 500 horses, is scheduled to undergo a four-month renovation of its barn area and main track beginning in June to make the facility more suitable for offtrack stabling. Brackpool said that could include the construction of a turf training track and turf gallops.

Details of offtrack stabling arrangements for 2014, including finding sources of financing, have been the subject of meetings in recent months between racetrack executives and officials with horsemen’s groups. Funding also is needed for vanning horses to and from offtrack stabling locations.

“It’s all part of a complex puzzle,” Brackpool said.

Harper said that a Fairplex Park-San Luis Rey Downs arrangement “is the least expensive way to go.”

“Hopefully, it will work,” he said.

He envisions that the racing season in Southern California could be changed in future years, depending on how 2014 goes.

“I think 2014 will be a good test to see what works and what doesn’t work,” he said. “I think everyone is concerned about how it will work out. I’m optimistic about it.”