Dates are a-changin’ in California horse racing

October 02, 2007 3:53 AM
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Within the next few years, the face of racing in California as it has been known for decades will change dramatically. Gone will be Bay Meadows in Northern California, and gone will be Hollywood Park in Southern California.

In place of those grand old tracks could stand new homes, condos, apartments and shopping malls, as instigated by the Bay Meadows Land Company, a real estate development firm that owns both tracks.

According to a story on the Blood-Horse website addressing the California Horse Racing Board’s recent meeting on racing dates in California, "Live racing at Bay Meadows would end with the conclusion of the San Mateo County Fair race meet Aug. 18, 2008 . . . " and, noting later . . . "The Los Angeles County Fair at Fairplex has been mentioned as the most likely alternative in Southern California should Hollywood Park be taken off the schedule."

Considerable politicking, redevelopment measures and environmental impact reports are likely to be discussed ad nauseam before anything is written in stone, but the handwriting is on the wall.

To that end, Jerry Hollendorfer, the Tiger Woods of Bay Area trainers, has 32 horses at Santa Anita for the Oak Tree meet, more than he has ever had there before on a regular basis. The 61-year-old horseman would seem to be getting his ducks in order in anticipation of Bay Meadows closing.

Other Northern California trainers could follow his lead, although Greg Gilchrist thinks Hollendorfer is the exception.

"I’ll probably stay in Northern California," said the 59-year-old Gilchrist, who has made the Bay Area his base of operations for more than three decades. "It’s easy enough to ship a horse to run in Southern California if you have one that’s good enough, but I think guys like Jerry and Art Sherman are in a different category. I keep 25 horses. That’s it. Those guys, you’re talking 100, 125, 150 head, so I don’t see any way they can’t divide their stables, really.

"Hollywood probably is next to be fading out, after Bay Meadows, and I’m sure Golden Gate will receive some of the available dates in Northern California, and there’s been talk that Pleasanton and places like that would get more, too, but I think that’s in the future. Whatever they’re doing, I wish they’d hurry up and get it done so we could have some stability."

On the subject of stability, Gilchrist said he was not best qualified to discuss the synthetic main tracks that have been installed at the behest of the CHRB at Hollywood, Del Mar, Santa Anita and Golden Gate.

"Ask me in a year, after we’ve had a chance to see how horses run at Golden Gate on its new (Tapeta) track," he said. "The only thing I can say now, from everything I see and read and people I talk to, it seems that what bothers synthetic surfaces the most are extreme temperature changes. I would think Golden Gate would be a great spot for a synthetic surface, because in our region, 75 to 80 percent of the time, temperatures range from 40 degrees to 70 degrees, so extreme cold and heat are minimal. Golden Gate should be ideal for the synthetic track."

As for his Breeders’ Cup Sprint candidate Smokey Stover, Gilchrist said he is likely to train right up to the $2 million race at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.

"There are only two possibilities before that," he said, "the Phoenix at Keeneland on Oct. 6, and the Ancient Title on Oct. 7 at Santa Anita. I’ve nominated for each race, but it would be a real reach to run in the Phoenix, and the Ancient Title is 20 days before the Breeders’ Cup, so unless it was a very short field, I think we’d just be compromising our chances for the Breeders’ Cup.

"The horse is doing well, but why would you take a chance on ruining things for $300,000 (purse for the Ancient Title), when three weeks later you can run for $2 million? If it was just another race, we might try to make both, but in this case, we’ll most likely go straight into the Breeders’ Cup off his win in the Icecapade at Monmouth (on Sept. 1)."

The homestretch

”¡ You won’t recognize where Hollywood Park once stood after the Inglewood track owned by Bay Meadows Land Company is closed forever. "Everything’s going to be bulldozed except the Casino," said an informed source. "That will be moved to the southeast corner of the property. In addition to 6,500 housing units, they’ll build movie theaters and retail shops. One infield lake will be retained and a new one built, along with a park. But there will be nothing left related to horse racing: no training track, no race track, no nothing."

”¡ When I wrote that David Wright would be National League MVP, I didn’t expect the Mets to pull a ”˜64 Phillies.

”¡ With his loss to Hard Spun in the Kentucky Cup Classic, Street Sense now must win the Breeders’ Cup Classic to be named Horse of the Year.

”¡ If the books put out an over/under on how many times so-called sports announcers utter the meaningless crutch phrase, "I’ll tell you what," the "over" would break the bank, even if the total was "infinity." Bruce Sutter relied on the phrase eight times during Friday’s Milwaukee-San Diego game on ESPN, and that was after just two innings. Blech!

”¡ And I see where the great mime, Marcel Marceau, has died. I heard he went quietly.