Although officials from both tracks are mum, other Southern California racing sources say that it's likely that next summer's Los Angeles County Fair meet will be moved to Hollywood Park from Fairplex Park in Pomona.
Rumors of such a move began to circulate earlier this year. It's believed that, should the California Horse Racing Board approve, Fairplex Park would retain its 18 racing days but run them in Inglewood as a tenant of Hollywood Park. That arrangement would not be unlike the landlord-tenant arrangement that has been in effect between Santa Anita and the Oak Tree Racing Assn. for more than two decades.
A Fairplex-Hollywood Park deal would end more than 60 years of racing at the Pomona fairgrounds. Fairplex, under contract with the Barretts horse sales company for the next several years, might retain its barn area and racing strip for training purposes. The rest of the racetrack property, including the grandstand, could be restructured for nonracing commercial purposes.
Fairplex Park officials were either unavailable or unwilling to comment Saturday about the change. Rick Baedeker, president of Hollywood Park, also declined comment.
Though only as a landlord, the transfer of the Fairplex dates to Hollywood Park would give the Inglewood track a new niche on the Southern California racing calendar. Hollywood Park is scheduled to run about 100 days next year, most of them during its spring-summer meet that begins in April. The rest of the calendar consists of the winter meet at Santa Anita, the summer season at Del Mar, Oak Tree's fall dates and the year-end meet at Hollywood Park.
The Fairplex dates fall between the end of the Del Mar meet in early September and the opening of the Oak Tree season in October.
"Fairplex going to Hollywood would not be beneficial to Oak Tree," said Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of the not-for-profit Oak Tree group. "A strong meet just in front of ours is bound to impact Oak Tree in a number of ways. But such a switch would be in the best interests of the industry, and that's always what Oak Tree has been about. So on those grounds I don't see how Oak Tree would want to oppose the move."
Even with Oak Tree approving, the racing board would have to entertain the opinions--and possible protests--from Del Mar and Frank Stronach, who runs Santa Anita. Stronach's company, Magna Entertainment, also owns Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields in the Bay Area. Stronach, largely an absentee proprietor, can be expected to exert considerable influence. Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Hollywood Park, and the Stronach empire have become spirited industry rivals. Their racing interests also overlap in South Florida, where Stronach runs Gulfstream Park and Churchill owns Calder Race Course.
Del Mar's board of directors is without a chairman after its longtime leader, John Mabee, retired last week. Mabee, 80, will remain as a director emeritus and his successor as chairman is expected to be elected at a board meeting in late January.