Stronach Group Threat to Close Down Santa Anita Blows Up in its Face

Posted on: March 25, 2024, 05:25h. 

Last updated on: March 26, 2024, 12:19h.

Last week, the owner of Southern California’s Santa Anita Racetrack threatened to close the famous venue if the state Horse Racing Board (CHRB) voted to grant racing dates for a meeting in Northern California.

Santa Anita, Stronach Group, 1/ST Racing & Gaming, Craig Fravel, California Horse Racing Board
The Stronach Group threatened to “repurpose” Santa Anita, above, unless horse racing stays out of Northern California. But was the company being serious? (Image: Thoroughbred Daily News)

On Friday, the CHRB went ahead and approved the dates anyway.

It was a “stunning rebuke” to Santa Anita’s owner, the Stronach Group, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported on the story.

North vs. South

In the letter dated March 19, Craig Fravel, executive vice-chairman of 1/ST Racing & Gaming, told the CHRB in no uncertain terms that their decision would have serious repercussions on racing in California.

An analysis of alternative uses for Santa Anita and San Luis Rey will be undertaken in short order [if racing is allocated to the north],” Fravel wrote. “The current financial model and required capital expense make no sense and the consolidation of operations as discussed last year and at the January Board meeting is the only alternative that has been presented.”

The letter was worded so strongly because a bill working its way through the state legislature would divert simulcast money from Northern California to Southern California in the event there is no racing in the North.

The Stronach Group intends to contribute to the paucity of racing in Northern California by closing down its Bay Area racetrack, Golden Gate Fields, in June.

It’s not clear whether Stronach was serious about closing down Santa Anita, or was employing some strategic brinksmanship. Either way, the strategy blew up in its face.

Landslide Decision

A vote that was by no means assured to go against its interests – to grant racing dates for a 10-week meeting at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton this fall – ultimately became a unanimous decision in favor of Northern California.

It seems the CHRB isn’t to be threatened, as its six board members let Fravel know during Friday’s meeting.

Commissioner Thomas Hudnut complained Fravel was unfairly trying to set up the CHRB as “determinant for [Santa Anita] to go out of business.”

“Because if you go out of business, it’s because of mismanagement, not because of this board,” he emphasized, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Commissioner Damascus Castellanos said the letter “bothered him” and was “not cool.”

“Now we have the north against the south, and I received a lot of calls,” Castellanos said. “I’m not upset because of the calls. I’m upset because I don’t do well with bullies … The bottom line is we need to work together. We need to figure out how to keep racing in California. Not just Northern, not just Southern, but in California.”