02/17/2011 5:05PM

Santa Anita race date decision could end Oak Tree's 41-year run


ARCADIA, Calif. – Santa Anita Park was awarded the 2011 autumn racing dates historically operated by the Oak Tree Racing Association at a California Horse Racing Board meeting Thursday, ending, at least temporarily, Oak Tree’s 41-year direct involvement in the management of a Southern California race meeting.

In a widely predicted decision, the racing board voted to award racing dates from Sept. 28 to Nov. 6 to Pacific Racing Association, a subsidiary of Santa Anita’s parent company, MI Developments. Oak Tree had sought to operate a fall meeting at Hollywood Park, comparable to 2010, but the board voted 6-0 for racing to be held at Santa Anita.

Santa Anita officials requested to run its meeting through its PRA subsidiary, which also operates race meetings at Golden Gate Fields, another MI Developments track in California.

At Thursday’s meeting, Santa Anita officials indicated that they will work with Oak Tree on a financial arrangement allowing Oak Tree, a not-for-profit organization, to continue contributing to various organizations affiliated with the sport, even though it will not manage a race meeting. The proposed arrangement would include terms allowing Santa Anita to run the well-known Breeders’ Cup stakes preps run during the Oak Tree meeting in past years.

Oak Tree operated a fall meeting at Santa Anita from 1969 until 2009, but the association’s lease with Santa Anita’s parent company, MI Developments, was voided last May after Santa Anita’s previous parent company, Magna Entertainment, declared bankruptcy. Last summer, Oak Tree and MI Developments agreed to have Oak Tree run at Santa Anita in 2010 until horsemen’s groups united in opposition in August, citing concerns over the condition of Santa Anita’s synthetic main track.

As a result, a rapid sequence of events led Oak Tree to move its meeting to Hollywood Park last fall. Santa Anita has since replaced its synthetic track with a sand-and-clay surface.

Oak Tree had a two-year agreement to operate at Hollywood Park, ending this year, and sought to continue that arrangement before the racing board Thursday.

On Thursday, Oak Tree executive vice president Sherwood Chillingworth said he received a letter from MI Developments chairman Frank Stronach in early February, discussing a potential financial arrangement. Chillingworth said he had not responded because of his existing contract with Hollywood Park.

Chillingworth said that Oak Tree may still pursue an opportunity to ask for racing dates at Del Mar in fall 2012. At Thursday’s meeting, racing board chairman Keith Brackpool emphasized that the 2011 dates were “not precedent setting.”