08/23/2012 4:37PM

Hollywood Park refuses to commit to racing beyond next summer


DEL MAR, Calif. – The future of racing at Betfair Hollywood Park after the 2013 spring-summer meeting was cast in doubt on Thursday when track officials told the California Horse Racing Board that it would not commit to operating as a racetrack beyond July of next year.

Racing board officials asked Hollywood Park to make a commitment for a spring-summer meeting, from late April to mid-July, and a fall meeting, in November and December of 2013. Hollywood Park officials said they could not commit to the fall 2013 meeting that far in advance.

The racing board approved a racing calendar for the Southern California Thoroughbred circuit at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Fairplex Park for 2013, contingent on Hollywood Park announcing whether it will run in the fall by Jan. 1, 2013.

“We’ll either put up or shut up on Jan. 1,” Hollywood Park track president Jack Liebau said.

In case Hollywood does not commit to race that fall, the racing board urged industry participants to come up with a contingency plan to accommodate the horses typically based at Hollywood Park and for a restructuring of the autumn racing calendar. Meetings on the subject are expected to be held in September and October.

If Hollywood Park closes, Fairplex Park and Los Alamitos have been mentioned as alternative training locations, although issues related to financing and stabling space must be addressed. Santa Anita is expected to gain the racing dates for the late fall of 2013 in the event Hollywood Park closes.

“We would need to work out what would happen if [Hollywood Park] wasn’t available,” board chairman Keith Brackpool said.

“If the facility is going to closed and be redeveloped, there is going to have to be a great deal of resources into an actual solution and not a proposed solution.”

Vice-chairman David Israel said there could be benefits to forming a contingency plan for stabling and a new racing schedule.

“It will force all of us into a conceptual reassessment into the structure of racing in Southern California,” he said. “I think it will strengthen the sport.”

Liebau told the racing board that he was frustrated that Hollywood Park was being asked to commit to fall racing dates by Jan. 1. In the past, Liebau said, Hollywood Park was asked to give a six-month notice whether it plans to conduct racing or close.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to draw a line in the sand,” Liebau said. “I think that might result in the premature demise of Hollywood Park, and so be it.”

His thoughts were immediately rebuked by commissioner Jesse Choper, who argued that a Jan. 1 commitment was necessary.

“We’re trying to give a push to you to maybe get us somewhere, and for the industry to plan,” he said.

Hollywood Park’s parent company, Bay Meadows Land Co., has expressed a desire to cease racing and develop the property, which is located in Inglewood, Calif., for residential and commercial uses. Liebau told the racing board on Thursday that entitlements to develop the land are in place, but that real estate economic conditions are not favorable.

“It is fair to think if they could finance the property they would finance it,” Liebau said. “It’s the economy we’re talking about.”

Asked by commissioner Chuck Winner whether there was “a commitment to proceed with development at this point,” Liebeu responded by saying, “No.”

When asked if he would know more by Jan. 1 about potential development of the property in the late months of 2013, Liebau said, “It would depend on how fast the lawyers could draft the loan documents. Entitlements are done.”