RIP Hollywood Park: Land ‘Simply Has a Higher and Better Use’
We all knew the end was near, but officials with Bay Meadows Land Co., the real estate development operation that owns Betfair Hollywood Park, have made it official: There will be no more live racing at the Inglewood, Calif., racetrack after this year’s 75th anniversary season.
The California Horse Racing Board was notified by the track’s owners that it will not seek racing dates in 2014 and will close the stable area at the end of this year. The announcement was not unexpected.
“Ownership has been upfront from the beginning that the property would eventually be developed unless there were significant changes in the horse racing business,’’ said Betfair Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau. “Despite the Hollywood Park Land Company financially supporting two statewide initiatives with varying degrees of support from other segments of the racing industry, the attempts to upgrade the business model were not successful.
“From an economic point of view, the land now simply has a higher and better use, so, unfortunately, racing will not continue here once the 2013 Autumn meet is completed.’’
Liebau said further logistics regarding the pending closure will be worked out in the coming months.
The current Spring/Summer meet continues through Sunday, July 14. Racing will cease with the conclusion of the autumn meet, which is scheduled to begin Thursday, Nov. 7 and continue through Sunday, Dec. 22.
The die for Hollywood Park was cast in 2005 when Churchill Downs Inc. sold the “track of lakes and flowers” to Bay Meadows Land Co. for $257.5 million. Churchill Downs had purchased the track for $140 million in 1999 from a racing and gaming company controlled by R.D. Hubbard, who won a proxy battle over longtime Hollywood Park executive Marje Everett in 1991.
At the time of that sale, Hubbard said Wall Street investors were confused as to whether his company was in racing or gaming business. “I think this pretty well clarifies that,” Hubbard said at news conference.
Thomas Meeker, then president of Churchill Downs, said at the time of CDI’s purchase of Hollywood Park: “We are thrilled at the prospect of expanding our racing operations from coast to coast. With the recent acquisition of Calder Race Course in Miami and now possibly the Hollywood Park race track in Southern California, Churchill Downs will be positioned to be the premier race track operator and simulcast broadcaster in the United States.”
But Churchill Downs followed Hubbard’s former company (which changed its name from Hollywood Park to Pinnacle Gaming) into the gaming business and divested itself of some of its racetrack properties, including Hollywood Park.
The intentions of BMLC from the time it purchased the track were to develop the Hollywood Park property, but along came the global economic crisis, beginning in 2007, and the real estate and development market went into a lengthy slump. It is now recovering, and plans for a major project called Hollywood Park Tomorrow on the racetrack property are close to fruition.
There have been discussions but no resolution about what will become of the racing dates that Betfair Hollywood Park has occupied, from April-July and November-December each year. Neither has there been any substantial plan put forward for anyone to absorb the horses currently stabled in the Hollywood Park backstretch. The track has 1,950 stalls and accommodations for about 500 stable hands.
Hollywood Park opened in June 1938 and its storied history features many notable achievements, from Seabiscuit’s victory in the inaugural Hollywood Gold Cup to the track hosting the inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984.
Once one of America’s most popular racetracks, with on-track attendance averaging over 34,000 daily in 1965, there has been virtually no marketing of the sport following BMLC’s purchase of Hollywood Park, and on-track crowds seldom reached 10,000, even on the biggest days of the year.