Southern California Offtrack Stabling Still Up in Air

By Steve Andersen
Plans for offtrack stabling in Southern California for 2016 were left in chaos on Monday evening after an apparent agreement reached last weekend among area racetracks and horsemen’s organizations collapsed, according to Chuck Winner, the chairman of the California Horse Racing Board.

“Things have taken a turn for the worse,” Winner said.

Winner said on Monday evening that “a deal was done” over Thanksgiving weekend, “but things have fallen apart. There are a number of issues. We’re trying to get everyone to give a little, which is hard in this industry.”

Officials are seeking a resolution on whether to house horses at Los Alamitos, Galway Downs and San Luis Rey Downs in 2016 - which has been the case this year - or reach alternative plans that could include stables being based at Del Mar for the first five months of the year.

Winner said discussions will continue this week, and that he was optimistic a deal could be in place before the racing board holds its next monthly meeting at Los Alamitos on Dec. 17.

The racing board told Santa Anita officials at its monthly meeting in November to have a deal in place by Dec. 1 for offtrack stabling and to complete general horsemen’s contracts with the Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers. The racing board gave Santa Anita conditional approval to start its race meeting on Dec. 26, contingent on finalizing those contracts.

Winner said the Dec. 1 deadline was not met. He said the racing board can force the parties to reach an agreement, but is hopeful that would not be the case.

“The agreement will not be submitted in time,” Winner said. “Hopefully, things will progress. My suspicion is that it will happen. We have the leverage to adjudicate this, but we’d rather not do that.

“Everyone will not be 100 percent happy. I’d be disappointed if we don’t have a resolution on the 17th. I’m not in favor of trying to impose anything.”

One apparent holdup in the discussions is language for legislation needed to assist in financing offtrack stabling and vanning. The legislation is expected to be introduced next year.

Horses based at official offtrack venues are shipped to area racetracks without cost to horsemen through a stabling and vanning fund. In recent years, the fund has run a deficit of approximately $4 million, a sum taken from racetrack commissions and purses.

Money for the fund is generated from a portion of simulcast handle from satellite wagering, which has been in decline in the last decade as bettors migrate to account-wagering services.

Last weekend, Winner said a framework was in place for a one-year deal to continue year-round stabling at Los Alamitos for a third year. Los Alamitos has hosted year-round stabling for up to 700 Thoroughbreds since January 2014, following the closure of the stable area at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif., which ceased live racing in December 2013.

Officials with horsemen’s organizations and Santa Anita had sought a 10-year commitment from Los Alamitos for continued offtrack stabling, but that deal was not reached. Los Alamitos officials said they could not commit to that long of a time frame.

Los Alamitos has sought to increase daily rates to host year-round stabling. Last weekend, a fee of $9,500 per day was agreed upon, double what the track was paid over the last two years. Los Alamitos officials had sought as much as $14,000 in recent discussions.

At the racing board’s monthly meeting in November, one scenario for offtrack stabling mentioned using Del Mar to house 500 horses from January through May.

Del Mar is located on the San Diego County fairgrounds. If Del Mar is used for early year stabling, the horses would have been forced off the property in June to accommodate the San Diego County Fair, which is held in the weeks prior to the track’s summer meeting.