High Anxiety in California
Can't blame horsemen in California for having a little high anxiety.
Bay Meadows Land Company bought Hollywood Park from Churchill Downs in 2005. The owner is a development company, not a racing company, and it has been public knowledge for the better part of these last eight years that the Track of Lakes and Flowers would meet the wrecking ball as soon as zoning approvals and financing were approved. BMLC similarly bought, closed, and bulldozed Bay Meadows racetrack in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Well, that day of reckoning for Hollywood Park is coming soon. According to most accounts, 2013 will be the final year of live racing at the Inglewood, Calif., track.
The California Horse Racing Board has been ineffectual in producing any kind of Band-Aid solution to the gaping wound that will be left in the stabling and training of Thoroughbreds with the disappearance of nearly 2,000 stalls. That's not to mention the absence of a racetrack to run live racing in 2014 from late April until mid-July and again in November and December.
It's not fair to blame the current CHRB for inaction. Other commissioners have come and gone over the last eight years and done nothing to resolve this serious problem. The most recent CHRB chairman, Keith Brackpool, decided to give up being a regulator and joined the Stronach Group to help operate the state's two other for-profit racetracks, Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields.
Horsemen are unhappy (even for horsemen) to the point that some of them are talking privately about cutting off their noses to spite their face (which is what a boycott of the entry box is akin to). They don't know what they want, but they don't want the inertia that has produced this crisis. One trainer who decided to take action on his own was John Shirreffs, who packed up his Hollywood Park stable and headed east to Belmont Park.
The solutions are not easy or obvious. If they were, this would have been resolved years ago.
Yes, Santa Anita Park will almost certainly race longer into the spring and possibly summer, though the turf course will need a break. Del Mar has restrictions on when it can open in the summer, though it will likely run a short fall meeting of some type, especially since track officials want to host the Breeders' Cup in the near future.
But there's no solution yet for stabling.
Interesting that the CHRB and its new chairman, David Israel, rushed out a press release yesterday (a Sunday!) announcing the formation of a new Ad Hoc Committee on Racing and Marketing Initiatives to work with the industry “on creative ways to enhance the sport in California.”
The press release said the committee, to be chaired by CHRB vice chairman Chuck Winner, would also work to “find additional incentives to encourage trainers and owners from other parts of the country to race their horses more often in the state.”
One incentive might be to develop a plan for a future that is looking increasingly bleak.