Creativity, cooperation could save California tracks

The Fourth of July is as good a day as any to reflect how horse racing has become sports’ most popular pinata. A lot of rage is being bandied about. But if it’s from people who care about the sport, then I can accept it. That energy just needs to be channeled in a positive way.

The critics I don’t respect are those who want only to tear down but have no constructive ideas. Horse racing needs consensus builders, not more obstacles, to repave the road it’s on.

Here’s an example. In a recent meeting of the California Horse Racing Board, chairman Richard Shapiro was told Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park would operate in 2009 and maybe even 2010. How magnanimous. Can it be that the Bay Meadows Land Company, the owner of the two racetracks, can hold the California racing industry hostage?

The only reason BMLC has not closed the doors and developed the two tracks is because the economy stinks. Who wants to construct new homes when there are no buyers or build office space when there are no business renters? So BMLC waits for the economy to improve and land values to go up.

Here is an outside-the-box idea that I would like Shapiro, Indian tribal gaming and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to consider.

The CHRB wants the two tracks to stay open and would love a percentage of casino profits for purses. The Indians would relish the chance to develop two new casinos offsite from their existing reservations. Gov. Schwarzenegger desperately needs more cash to help balance a state budget deficit.

The state could establish a fair market value for Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park and either have Indian tribes buy the tracks or the state take them over using eminent domain. A new operator then would lease the racing facility to run the racing dates. The Indians would build two new casinos on the properties either as the owner or lessee. Part of the casino profits would go to fund California horse racing purses. The state would get money as a lessor, from taxes and selling the casino licenses.

It’s an idea. Bottom line, the last thing I want to see are more houses, office buildings or another strip mall go up where Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park are. Now is a good time to get mad.

• QUALIFIERS — The Orleans Firecracker qualifier for the 2009 Horseplayer World Series is today. The entry fee is $100.

On Thursday, a National Handicapping Championship sub-qualifier will take place at Palace Station. The entry fee is $40.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com.

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