There’s less than a 5 percent chance the Oak Tree Racing Association will hold its annual fall meet at Santa Anita in 2010, according to an industry official close to the situation who requested anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak about the subject.
According to the official, Santa Anita’s parent company, Magna International Developments, is playing hardball and will not budge on its demands, either to Oak Tree officials or members of the California Horse Racing Board, who called out Magna officials at their monthly meeting last week.
MID, which took over ownership of Santa Anita in a reorganization of Frank Stronach’s companies during Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, voided its lease with Oak Tree, which was scheduled to run out in 2016, two weeks ago and said it would re-enter into negotiations with the non-profit group on a new lease.
If Oak Tree officials can’t come to an agreement with Magna on that new lease, the industry source said Hollywood Park will likely be the site for the 2010 meet that is scheduled to begin Sept. 29 and run through Oct. 31. Del Mar also has offered its facility to Oak Tree.
“They’re not going to back down, even after the CHRB meeting last week,” the industry official said of Magna. “They’re going to try to get what they want and if they don’t, they’ll close down Santa Anita.”
It’s hard to imagine even Stronach making such a bad decision, especially when, according to the official, Santa Anita made a $15 million profit last year. Stronach is on his soap box about the racing model in California being broken, which nobody disputes, but some of his ideas are off-the-charts bad.
Dennis Mills, MID’s chief executive officer, said last week a decision on the new racing surface at Santa Anita will be announced no later than mid-July. This, after former Santa Anita president Ron Charles said in January that the decision on a new track would come shortly. Shortly has turned into possibly six months later.
Yes, the model is broken, but Stronach is a big reason why it is broken and his continued bad decisions are making matters worse. If Oak Tree is forced to move its act to Hollywood Park this fall, the on-track crowds will be nowhere near what they’ve been in the past and the ill will that is prevalent throughout the sport in California will grow only stronger.
Plus, Breeders’ Cup officials said recently they will announce within 30 days where the 2011 Cup will be held. There was talk in the past few months that Oak Tree/Santa Anita, which has hosted the event five times and became the first track to host it in back-to-back years in 2008-09, could possibily become the permanent host of the Breeders’ Cup. But that hardly seems likely now with Oak Tree’s future so cloudy. Breeders’ Cup president Greg Avioli told the Louisville Courier-Journal this week that the Oak Tree situation is a “concern.”
Stronach is scheduled to fly to Southern California in June to hold a pow wow with SoCal racing executives. According to our source, they probably won’t like what they hear from a man who is doing his best to alienate himself from an industry that has been so good to him.
If Stronach is so dissatisfied that he would let Santa Anita fall by the wayside if he doesn’t get his demands, he should sell the track immediately to someone who holds the Great Race Place in a higher regard and will do what’s right for the sport and not what’s best only for Magna. He’s not alone in a me-first environment that is so prevalent in the sport today, but it’s something that needs to stop if the California racing industry wants to right what is now a sinking ship.