12/23/2009 12:00AM

Q&A: Ron Charles

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Benoit & Associates

President and chief executive officer of Santa Anita, which opens its meeting Saturday

Birthdate: Oct. 27, 1947, in Glendale, Calif.

Family: wife Kathy; daughter Tawny; stepsons Rick and Craig.

Got into racing because. . .: "I was a fan. I used to bowl. A couple of friends I bowled with were going to the races. We were in the infield at Santa Anita. I can still remember some of the names of the horses who won that day, 43 years ago. I just loved it. My Saturdays after that were spent at the track."

What kind of challenges does Santa Anita specifically, and California racing generally, face as your meet opens?: "There are two major issues - purses and inventory. They kind of go hand in hand. The size of the fields, and the quality of the fields, are critical. It's the number one concern of racing fans."

Do you feel California is losing ground to states whose racing is subsidized by other forms of gaming?: "Yes. That's exactly what is going on. It's going to become more and more difficult to keep our better horses here, down to our claiming horses, if the purses are lacking. If purses are larger, more owners will want to participate, which will result in larger inventory, which will result in bigger fields, which bettors want."

Do you have hope?: "I am optimistic. There's still an opportunity for us to acquire some type of additional gaming. Slots are more likely than sports betting. And we look at something like Instant Racing as a fallback position."

Do you think the political climate can change next year when a new governor is elected?: "So far it's been very difficult dealing with Sacramento and trying to have them understand the urgency of additional subsidies for racing. With the election next year, there's reason for optimism."

What is the status of Santa Anita's sale as a result of parent company Magna Entertainment's bankruptcy?: "Right now, the auction has been delayed a number of times, but I do think there will be an auction by the end of February."

How gratifying was this year's Breeders' Cup?: "It was one of if not the highlight of all the years I've been involved in racing."

Did you ever envision going from a fan to an owner to running Santa Anita?: "No. When I was young, I wanted to be a professional bowler. I got into the printing business - I did that for 25 years. I became an owner in 1979. I enjoyed everything about the the races. Winning a race is the greatest feeling. When your horse wins, on your way to the winner's circle, you're gliding. It's been an interesting transition. First, we would be in the infield. Then we started sitting in the grandstand so we could see these spectacular mountains. I thought I had finally made it when I was able to buy a box. I ended up claiming a horse with a partner, and we won our first three races, so I was obviously hooked."

Best horse seen: "Spectacular Bid."

Hobbies: "I'm a big baseball fan, and I play as much tennis as I can, which lately is not a lot. I like all sports. I enjoy watching sports. And I'm kind of a political junkie, too. I like to read. I read three newspapers a day. When I fly to London or Hong Kong, I read seven or eight papers."

Future ambitions: "To do everything I can to make the racing industry healthier. We're at a critical juncture. The status quo will not work. The simulcasting model, ADW, new forms of wagering, all need to be re-evaluated. It we don't, it's going to be difficult economically for the industry."