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Just one year left for Hollywood Park

Jul 1, 2008 7:00 PM

by Ray Poirier | Hollywood Park, once the darling of thoroughbred racing in southern California, will be open for at least one more year, according to the owners, Bay Meadows Land Company.

The facility, whose patronage included the biggest names of the Hollywood movie industry, was purchased by the current owners in 2005 for $260 million. As part of the deal, the seller, Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN), insisted that the property would have to remain open for racing for at least three years.

Recently, Jack Liebau, Hollywood track president, told the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) that the track owners planned to continue racing for one more year. However, Bay Meadows in San Mateo would discontinue racing and its employees would be terminated.

 That will leave racing in northern California to Golden Gate Fields, with a refurbished Pleasanton county fair facility taking on a 70-day block of racing dates.

With the prospect of just one track, Santa Anita, owned by Magna Entertainment Corp. (MECA) remaining in the Los Angeles area, the racing industry has "coalesced around Fairplex as the replacement for Hollywood Park," according to the CHRB.

Heading a study group, Craig Fravel, executive vice president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said that legislation to make available some $75 million for the expansion of Fairplex into a year-round racing facility has been proposed.

Long-time southern California racing executive Cliff Goodrich, who was hired as a consultant for Fairplex, has provided the CHRB with a progress report relative to preparing the track for its future involvement in the area’s racing calendar.

He said the readiness of Fairplex would be "contingent upon financing and business arrangements being put in place to secure expansion for a period of up to 30 years."

Without racing at Hollywood Park, Goodrich said, the racing calendar would have to address additional dates at Santa Anita, Oak Tree at Santa Anita, Del Mar and Fairplex.

In 1984, Hollywood Park, then headed by the late Marge Everett, was the site of the first Breeders’ Cup day of championship racing. Everett was deposed by R.D. Hubbard who transformed the publicly-traded company into a gaming company with the acquisition of casinos. The company later became Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. (PNK).