Please, Frank, get a deal done with Oak Tree

Now that Frank Stronach, in a “sign of good will,” has announced he’s tearing out Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface in favor of a dirt track, he needs to step up further.

Stronach’s planned dirt track, which will be a mixture of sand and soil, is a nice start. The announcement at Del Mar in front of about 250 horsemen was met with applause. There’s no doubt the vast majority of Southern California horsemen wanted to return to dirt.

But making the horsemen happy about the racing surface should only be step one if Stronach is truly bent on helping California racing return to prominence. He also needs to make sure Oak Tree stays at Santa Anita.

Oak Tree and Santa Anita go together like peanut butter and jelly, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and Zenyatta and winning. The two have been great for one another. It’s been a perfect marriage, and how often can you say that about holy matrimony?

I can’t imagine Oak Tree anywhere else but Santa Anita, although because the owners and trainers are not comfortable running over the Pro-Ride surface this year because of safety concerns, it looks like Hollywood Park will be hosting the five-week meet this year.

But 2010 should be the final year Oak Tree is not held at Santa Anita. The two sides need to come together and get a longterm deal done. There’s no reason whatsoever for Oak Tree to race at Hollywood Park or Del Mar.

Longtime thoroughbred owner Mace Siegel, who helped broker a deal between Stronach and Oak Tree for 2010 at the California Horse Racing Board’s June meeting at Hollywood Park, made another plea for the two sides to remain partners at Stronach’s meeting with horsemen Wednesday night.

“Frank, promise me that you will sit down with me and Chilly (Oak Tree executive vice president Sherwood Chillingworth),” Siegel said.

Stronach, who says he has a lot of respect for Siegel, told him: “I promise I will sit down with you.”

Whether it happens is anybody’s guess, but the majority of horsemen do not want to travel to Del Mar each year for Oak Tree. They say it’s too expensive. The last thing this industry needs is more owners and trainers leaving the state because of soaring costs.

Frank, you did good with your decision to return to dirt. Now go for a two-bagger and get an agreement done with Oak Tree so it can return to its rightful place beginning next fall.

Stronach has the opportunity to come off looking as the good guy, one of the positive leaders in the industry.

Who thought there was a chance of that ever happening?

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