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Hubbard Looks to Track's Future : Hollywood Park: He is working 15-hour days in his new role as president to get things ready for the April 24 opener.

February 19, 1991|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shortly after moving into the executive suite at Hollywood Park two weeks ago, track president R.D. Hubbard called a staff meeting.

No one asked for a raise, not after the recent $9-million proxy battle that resulted in Hubbard taking control of the track, but there was a question about the employees' dress code.

"It won't be as strict," Hubbard said. "You'll see me around here in boots and jeans a lot of the time."

Marje Everett, who had run Hollywood Park since 1972, resigned Feb. 3, ending a mud-slinging fight and saving the track's shareholders perhaps an additional $1.5 million in proxy costs.

Since then, Hubbard has been at Hollywood Park most of the time, working 15-hour days to get the place ready for the season opener April 24.

"A year from now, they won't be able to recognize the place," said Tom Gamel, a prominent Hollywood Park shareholder who sought the ouster of Everett. "It will look like a completely different race track."

Hubbard, 55, also owns a 60% interest in Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico and the Woodlands in Kansas City, Kan., in addition to his controlling interest in Hollywood Park. Perhaps only one other racing investor, Edward J. De Bartolo, the Youngstown, Ohio, sportsman who runs tracks in Cleveland, Bossier City, La., and Oklahoma City, Okla., has such multiple interests.

Hubbard had no grand plan for all of this. In 1986, after parimutuel gambling was legalized in Kansas, Dick Boushka approached Hubbard about building a greyhound track. More than a decade before, both had been successful businessmen in Wichita, Kan.--Boushka with a refining company and Hubbard for a firm that manufactured automobile glass.

Hubbard had never seen a greyhound race, and as a member of the horse-racing establishment he might have been expected to pass up a dog operation. But Hubbard envisioned a combined horse-dog complex, and now Kansas has a $70-million facility, the two tracks sharing a joint parking lot.

"If we didn't do what we did, the greyhounds and the horses would have wound up competing against one another in the same market," Hubbard said. "It was a better idea getting the two industries to work together."

New Mexico was next. Ruidoso Downs, a major quarter horse track where Hubbard raced many of his eight champions, had fallen on hard times and was in disrepair. In 1988, Hubbard and a partner, Ed Allred of Long Beach, bought Ruidoso by putting up $2.6 million in cash and assuming $9 million in debts. Since then, they have spent nearly $3 million on improvements.

In 1986, Hubbard, Gamel and another partner made a tender offer for debt-ridden Hollywood Park and its other track, Los Alamitos, but the Everett-led board turned down the suggestion. Hubbard went away quietly, but then last year, when a large block of Hollywood Park stock became available, he began buying--while contemplating a run at the Everett's control.

To win, Hubbard had to marshal support that a group of dissident stockholders lacked when they failed to topple Everett in 1977. Gamel's position was clear--long before Hubbard's arrival, he had criticized Everett publicly and asked for her resignation.

Still, Hubbard and Gamel owned less than 16% of the company. An important player in the struggle was sports businessman Harry Ornest, who had never raced a horse and had seldom bet on one. But he and his family were Hollywood Park's largest shareholders.

Ornest didn't commit himself until Hubbard, in sort of an audition for a board seat, made a presentation to the Everett-dominated board during a meeting at Everett's Holmby Hills home last year. Hubbard was rejected by the Everett loyalists, but Ornest, impressed with the presentation, cast his proxies--close to 10% of the track's stock--with Hubbard.

"I'm thrilled that Hubbard is running the track," Ornest said. "He's the best thing to happen to the company's shareholders in years. He gives the track the combination of racing and business leadership that Hollywood Park has lacked for a long time. Hubbard will instill a loyalty among the employees that hasn't been there lately. It should be fun to work at Hollywood Park."

Randall Dee Hubbard--friends call him by his middle name--was born in Smith Center, Kan., population about 2,000. Hubbard's parents had seven children before him. Miner Hubbard, his father, ran the town ice house and gave his youngest son his first job, carrying 25- and 50-pound blocks of ice.

Hubbard, a good high school basketball player, attended a community college near Wichita for three years, then briefly coached basketball for $3,200 a year.

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