October 2009 home page


Trouble Where Surf Meets Turf
Carl Hilliard | Stratford Court

Photo Art Olson

California’s horseracing industry is in live-or-die mode. Two tracks are closing; two more are primed for the auction block. With five major racetracks in California, that leaves only Del Mar alive to the thundering hoofs of Thoroughbreds.

Developers are holding the reins on Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park now. Once a $2 billion development plan for Hollywood Park was announced, Governor Schwarzenegger signed legislation that would allow Del Mar to take some of the Hollywood Park racing days for fall and spring meets. A longer racing season at Del Mar seemed the silver lining to the cloud over horseracing, but a pall was soon cast with the news that Golden Gate and Santa Anita had hit bankruptcy bottom. First came auction talk, replaced by a wait-and-see-what-happens-with-the-economy decision. As of this writing, the future for those two racetracks remains uncertain.

Even though Del Mar is the second leading track in the country with a widely admired track operator judged the best in the business – the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club – the outlook is not rosy. Del Mar cannot survive if it’s the only major track in California. It will take at least two seasonally operational statewide horse tracks to balance the cost of shipping horses from track to track. And people who know horseracing, like the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s CEO, Joe Harper, say if Santa Anita closes, Del Mar racing won’t be able to survive.

The loss of racing in Del Mar would be more significant than fading out of the classic Bing Crosby song; it would hit the city of Del Mar where it hurts the most. Horseracing brings our city revenue from sales taxes, hotel-occupancy taxes, plus a share of the amount bet on the races on the track and at the satellite wagering facility.

Senator Christine Kehoe’s request for a deferral of the renewal of a new license to operate the Del Mar racetrack for at least a year has been granted. Can we count on the trouble disappearing in a year? Since the real trouble affecting horseracing in California is its competition, namely Indian casinos and Internet gambling, what we need isn’t the passage of time – it’s a totally different approach.


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