05/09/2013 1:38PM

Hollywood Park will close at end of year


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Betfair Hollywood Park will close for racing and training at the end of this year, track employees were informed in a letter Thursday.

The letter, written by track president Jack Liebau, confirmed what has been widely expected after track management stated that Hollywood Park would eventually be closed and the property developed for residential and commercial uses.

The 75-year-old track will continue its current spring-summer meeting through July 14 and will conduct its final meeting in the autumn, from Nov. 7 through Dec. 22.

In a one-page letter dated Thursday, Liebau told employees that Hollywood Park had informed the California Horse Racing Board this week that it would not seek racing dates for 2014.

Liebau wrote, “Yesterday, the Hollywood Park Land Company, as anticipated, advised the California Horse Racing Board that it would not be seeking 2014 live racing dates at Hollywood Park. Thus, racing at Hollywood Park will cease with the conclusion of the 2013 Autumn meeting.”

Racing board executive director Kirk Breed said Thursday that he received notice of Hollywood Park’s intentions earlier this week.

“It’s like a great old ship on the ocean, like the Queen Mary, all of a sudden, they junk it,” Breed said. “It’s very sad.”

In his letter, Liebau wrote that stable area is likely to be closed at the end of 2013. The letter stated that when the track was purchased in 2005, Hollywood Park Land Company (a subsidiary of Bay Meadows Land Company) made a three-year commitment to live racing, with the hope that government approval could be reached to install slot machines at the track.

When that initiative failed, Liebau wrote, “the ultimate development of Hollywood Park’s property was inevitable.”

In a statement released on Thursday afternoon, Liebau said economics played a role in the decision to cease racing.

"From an economic point of view, the land now simply has a higher and better use," he said. "Unfortunately, racing will not continue here once the 2013 Autumn meet is completed."

“Sadly,” he wrote, “for we who love racing and Hollywood Park, it was simply a matter of time.”

Liebau did not return a phone call Thursday seeking comment.

Hollywood Park opened in 1938 and hosted two of the first four Breeders’ Cup – the inaugural running in 1984 and again in 1987. The track hosted the event for a third and final time in 1997.

The timing of the announcement comes two weeks before racing dates for 2014 are scheduled to be discussed by the racing board at its monthly meeting in Sacramento. In anticipation of Hollywood Park closing, Santa Anita and Del Mar have held discussions in recent months about a revised calendar for 2014 that would include racing at Santa Anita from late December to early July and for an expanded Del Mar meeting in the second half of the summer.

A second meeting at Del Mar, in the fall, also has been discussed.

In addition, the closure of Hollywood Park will lead to significant changes in stabling for Thoroughbreds in Southern California.

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

Santa Anita is owned by The Stronach Group, which owns the San Luis Rey Downs training center in northern San Diego County. San Luis Rey Downs 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.

Details of stabling arrangements for 2014 have been the subject of meetings in recent months between racetrack executives and officials with horsemen’s groups.