07/24/2010 3:33PM

Oak Tree signs lease with Magna for fall meeting at Santa Anita


DEL MAR, Calif. – Magna International Developments, the parent company of Santa Anita, and the Oak Tree Racing Association signed a lease agreement for Oak Tree’s fall meeting at Santa Anita on Friday, officials with both sides said.

The agreement was reached a day after the California Horse Racing Board mandated that Magna International reach an agreement with Oak Tree by Friday for Magna to be allowed to hold multiple racing licenses in the state. Magna owns two racetracks in California - Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita – and an account-wagering company, XpressBet.

The Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting will run from Sept. 29 to Oct. 31.

George Haines, the president of Santa Anita, said he signed the lease agreement on Friday morning.

“We wanted to make sure we were in compliance [with the racing board],” Haines said. “It’s been back and forth like a Ping-Pong ball with changes. We’ve signed the agreement.”

Sherwood Chillingworth, the executive vice-president of Oak Tree, said the “deal was done” late Friday afternoon after daylong discussions with Magna officials.

Last month, Magna International, chaired by Frank Stronach, and Oak Tree reached a verbal agreement for Oak Tree to race at Santa Anita this fall. Oak Tree’s lease was voided in the spring after Magna International took over management of Santa Anita following the bankruptcy of Magna Entertainment, another Stronach-controlled subsidiary.

When the lease was voided, Oak Tree began discussions with Del Mar and Hollywood Park about relocating its meeting to those tracks. Oak Tree decided to stay at Santa Anita after reaching a verbal agreement with Magna International at a racing board meeting in June.

The deal had not been finalized between Magna International and Oak Tree before Thursday’s racing board meeting because Magna International did not have the necessary waiver from the racing board to operate the two racetracks and the account betting service. A single entity is not allowed to own more than one racetrack in California without a waiver from the board.

After a lengthy discussion on Thursday revealed that the absence of that waiver was holding up lease negotiations, the racing board’s chairman, Keith Brackpool, introduced a motion that Magna International would be granted existing license waivers as long as the Oak Tree agreement was reached.

At Thursday’s meeting, Magna International was scheduled to present a report to the racing board on plans for its California tracks and the company’s future in California. Company officials, however, informed the racing board earlier this month that Magna would not issue the report, citing the need to keep some business plans confidential.

Brackpool told the Magna officials that the information would remain confidential, and not subject to public records. Brackpool scolded Magna officials for not having the report completed. The report is due to be submitted by Sept. 1.