by Winston Chua
ARCADIA– By now, horse racing aficionados are well aware that MI Developments founderand Chairman Frank Stronach and Oak Tree Racing have reached a verbal agreementto provide Oak Tree Racing a one-year lease agreement to race at Santa AnitaPark for 2010.
Whilethe agreement may seem simple between the two parties, how it arrived at thatconclusion is a completely different story.
Fornearly four uninterrupted hours, the assumption in the Hollywood Park meetingroom seemed to indicate that Stronach wanted no part of Oak Tree.
Butlike Zenyatta’s breathtaking performance (just not as cool) June 13 atHollywood Park, something brilliantly unexpected came.
Thediscussion between Stronach, the California Horse Racing Board and Oak Treeseemed to indicate that Oak Tree had, according to the MI DevelopmentsChairman, decisively planned to leave Santa Anita as early as June 5.
Inaddition, he repeated over and over how having Oak Tree at Santa Anita “doesn’tmake economic sense,” even though Oak Tree executive vice president SherwoodChillingworth pointed out that they had given the Chairman $50 million over thepast 11 years.
CHRBCommissioner Bo Derek questioned why Stronach was “driving away the Breeders’Cup” and was met with the same “it doesn’t make business sense” answer.
TheMI Developments founder’s statements seemed to be saying that he is morefocused on the long-term sustenance of horse racing in California and the rolehe can play in the monumental task of resurrecting the sport, throughlegislation and deregulation.
Stronachand his statements were met with both applause and frustration from theaudience, but the CHRB acknowledged his passion for horse racing as a whole.
Thingsseemed doomed for expulsion for Santa Anita; Chillingworth even asked for atermination statement in writing from Stronach.
CHRBChairman Keith Brackpool tried to make sense of the timeline as to how theevents arrived to Tuesday’s meeting, when a Zenyatta moment arrived.
Duringthis time of figuring things out, Stronach extended the olive branch andallowed Oak Tree to use Santa Anita Park for just one more year, although theboard insisted that no hasty decisions regarding a time table.
Precedingthe Oak Tree agenda item were more than a dozen other agenda items, includingminisatellite wagering facilities, amendments to rules and distribution ofcharity proceeds, including a $48,000 gift from Oak Tree Racing to eightbeneficiaries. The CHRB also praised the spectacular race of Zenyatta, who wonin exhilarating fashion for the 17th time at Hollywood Park on June13. Her race can be found on ESPN.com.
Brackpool,David Israel, Moss and Derek for much of the discussion seemed puzzled by MIDevelopment’s stance on why it would be beneficial to leave Santa Anita empty.
Sources close to the actionhave reported that Oak Tree is looking to move to Del Mar in 2011. The City ofArcadia, with its need for charitable contributions, stands to benefit from OakTree’s presence this year.
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