10/18/2010 1:14PM

Pegram offers to aid in purchase of Del Mar grounds


Prominent horse owner Mike Pegram has offered to support the city of Del Mar financially in the municipality’s effort to purchase the Del Mar fairgrounds in an exchange for a 55-year lease to operate the Del Mar racetrack on the fairgrounds.

In an interview on Sunday, Pegram said that if the $120 million proposed sale is successful he would like to expand the number of racing days annually from the current seven-week summertime schedule and commit additional revenue toward capital improvements, such as widening the turf course and upgrading the backstretch.

The proposed sale is part of an effort by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sell some state-owned properties to reduce the state’s budget deficit. Legislation authorizing the sale, sponsored by State Senator Christine Kehoe, whose district includes Del Mar, states that the 400-acre property must be sold to the city of Del Mar for $120 million and that the property must continue to be used for the San Diego county fair, held in late June and early July, and for horse racing.

The legislation has not made it past the state senate rules committee, but could reach a vote later this year, if Schwarzenegger calls a special legislative session, or in early 2011, when the next scheduled legislative session is conducted.

Pegram, who has a home in Del Mar, said he was approached by city officials during the summer and asked to make a $30 million commitment.

“It could come together before the next six months,” Pegram said. “All we are are passengers on the bus. This is between the state and the city. The city came to us and said we needed cash.

“It’s a 55-year lease. The caveat is the fair would have to remain in its current dates. We would have use of the racetrack for 365 days a year. We would have access to 1,600 stalls for 365 days a year. We would have the opportunity to have additional meets as long as it doesn’t conflict with the fair.”

The racetrack is currently operated by the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which leases the track from the state’s 22nd Agricultural District. Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is currently seeking a long-term lease for the track, which it has run since 1970. The organization’s president, Craig Fravel, was not available for comment on Monday.

Under the proposed legislation, the 22nd Agricultural District would be abolished, and agricultural district officials have been quoted in the San Diego press as saying the potential sale price is too low.

Pegram owns the 2009 champion 2-year-old colt, Lookin At Lucky, with Tucson businessmen Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, who he said will also provide funds toward the $30 million commitment. Pegram said he would seek financial support from other horsemen.

Pegram said his desire to operate Del Mar is to provide California racing with stability at a time when Hollywood Park owners have indicated a desire to develop the racetrack property. Hollywood Park has committed to racing through 2011, and in the past has told the racing industry it will provide a six-month notice for intentions to cease racing. If Hollywood Park ceases to operate, Santa Anita is expected to gain additional racing dates.

Pegram, a member of the Thoroughbred Owners of California’s board of directors, said California racing would benefit with year-round training at Del Mar. He is hoping to gain the support of the California Horse Racing Board and California Thoroughbred Trainers.

“This can happen to secure another long-term racetrack for California,” Pegram said. “There are three hurdles. The city has to get the deal together with the state. The second is we have to finish our deal with the city, but the devil is in the details and we haven’t gotten to the details.

“Lastly, the CHRB, the CTT and TOC, and anyone else, will have to think this is a good idea for the industry. I don’t think it’s a good business for all the dates to go to Santa Anita. That’s an industry decision. We need the calendar to work for everybody.”