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More race days at Santa Anita?

Lost among all the recent news about Santa Anita Park losing the Oak Tree meet and the announcement that the Arcadia racetrack is going back to a conventional dirt surface is track owner Frank Stronach’s long-range plan for the “Great Race Place.”

Larry Stewart

After spending two days in Del Mar covering the developments there and then spending the following two days interviewing horsemen and racing officials by phone for stories for the Thoroughbred Times, I can offer at least a little insight.

As I reported earlier, Stronach met with horse owners Wednesday and talked about his long-term idea for a bet that pays at least a guaranteed $10 million, to attract more bettors from all over the world. The idea would be that a bettor would have to pick the exact order of finish of the first four horses in four consecutive races, a quad superfecta, if you will.

As for Santa Anita itself, Stronach wants more race dates, particularly if Hollywood Park is demolished. The site of the Inglewood track has been earmarked for development for several years, but the project has been held up by the economy. In a letter to the California Horse Racing Board in late July, Stronach said he would like to increase Santa Anita’s racing schedule by more than 60% to a minimum of 140 dates. Santa Anita was allotted 83 dates for the 2009-2010 winter-spring meet that began last Dec. 26. According to a good source, Stronach would eventually like to have four more weeks added to that meet, extending it through the Kentucky Derby and Preakness — both big moneymaking days for racetracks everywhere.

If Stronach is successful in getting the extension, that would figure to be 20 more dates, getting him up to 103. The other 37 would have to come from a fall meet that would replace Oak Tree or Hollywood Park’s fall meet. But here’s the rub: my source said in order to get the winter-spring extension from the CHRB, Stronach may, as a goodwill gesture, do a new deal with the Oak Tree Racing Association that would cover at least three years, maybe five.

The assumption now is Oak Tree is headed to Del Mar after a one-year stay at Hollywood Park. I cornered Stronach after he made his dirt track announcement on Aug. 18 to ask him about what I had heard. “We’re just talking about the track now,” he told me. “That is the big news.” Dennis Mills, Stronach’s CEO, said pretty much the same thing when we talked by phone two days later. So at this point, it’s only speculation. But it sort of all makes sense.

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