05/21/2013 12:57PM

Santa Anita, Del Mar to seek extra 2014 dates at CHRB meeting


ARCADIA, Calif. – The Santa Anita winter meet will extend to early summer – more than six consecutive months of racing in Arcadia from Dec. 26 to July 6 – pending the California Horse Racing Board allocation of 2014 dates.

A redesigned Southern California racing calendar necessitated by the looming closure of Hollywood Park is the chief topic Thursday when the CHRB meets in Sacramento. In addition to the Santa Anita proposal, the CHRB will consider a request from Del Mar to conduct a one-month November fall meet in addition to its annual summer meet.

Due to the importance of the issue, CHRB action – allocation of 2014 dates – is expected Thursday. The CHRB also will consider 2015 dates.

It is possible, however, the CHRB could defer a decision regarding allocation of dates to a later meeting.

The announcement by Hollywood to cease racing and stabling operations – the track will be turned over to developers at the end of the year – leaves gaps on the circuit to be filled by two remaining major tracks – Santa Anita and Del Mar. Proposed expansion projects at Fairplex Park and Los Alamitos are on hold.

Hollywood historically hosted two meets each year – a spring-summer meet from April to mid-July, and a fall meet from November to late December. Pending CHRB allocation of dates, Santa Anita and Del Mar will fill much of the void.

Both tracks submitted 2014 date requests to the CHRB. Santa Anita requested a long meet from Dec. 26 through July 6, and a fall meet from Sept. 25 through Nov. 9. The track submitted a similar proposal for 2015.

Del Mar requested its annual seven-week summer meet from July 16 through Sept. 3 and a one-month fall meet (four-day weeks) Nov. 5-30.

Del Mar submitted a similar proposal for 2015. Requests from both tracks include overlapping calls for the lucrative Nov. 5-9 week that includes the 2014 Breeders’ Cup. The location of the 2014 Breeders’ Cup has not been announced.

The Santa Anita and Del Mar requests leave gaps, including a short break between meets July 7-15, and, more significant, nearly four weeks in December with no racing in Southern California until the Santa Anita meet begins Dec. 26. Barretts Racing at Fairplex Park will run its annual 13-day Los Angeles County Fair meet in early September.

Challenges that face the industry in the post-Hollywood era are broad.

Several officials this week – speaking on background – consistently repeated two key concerns. Those are a Santa Anita grass course never used for racing in May or June, and the issue of stabling and training. Hollywood’s closure eliminates 1,950 stalls.

The changing Southern California landscape could increase the relevance of the Northern California circuit. That includes a Golden Gate grass course that might be utilized to a greater extent when the Santa Anita turf requires a respite.

One-third of the races during the 2012-13 Santa Anita winter meet were on turf (205 of 616). The grass is winter rye, and functional for a four-month meet that lasts until April.

But seasons change, and it is unclear how the Santa Anita course would handle six months of use. This could become a particular concern in the spring-summer months of May and June when the winter rye typically is scalped.

A second issue is stabling and training. As of mid-April, the circuit’s horse inventory was close to 3,000 horses. The closure of Hollywood puts Santa Anita as the circuit’s only year-round facility, with stall space for 1,800 racehorses plus 200 stalls typically left open for shippers and ponies.

San Luis Rey Downs in north San Diego County is being refurbished and will have room for 575 horses. Fairplex has room for about 1,200 horses, but is not open year-round. Officials at Fairplex have said they are considering hosting year-round stabling, but have yet to find a suitable financial arrangement.