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Oak Tree to race at Santa Anita

Oak Tree will run a meet at Santa Anita this fall under a tentative deal reached on Tuesday during a meeting of the California Horse Racing Board at Hollywood Park.

The deal was accepted at the end of a four-hour meeting in which Frank Stronach, the chairman of MI Developments, the company that owns Santa Anita, stated repeatedly that the company had no desire to allow Oak Tree to run race dates during the fall at the track. However, Stronach abruptly changed course after CHRB members implored MI Developments to consider allowing the fall meet to go forward under a temporary deal.

After separate private conferences between officials of MI Developments and Oak Tree, Sherwood Chillingworth, Oak Tree's executive vice president, told the commission that it would accept the offer, although he also indicated that the decision was a temporary solution. Oak Tree has run the fall meet at Santa Anita for 41 years.

"In the long run, it's better for us to run one year at Santa Anita," Chillingworth said.

MI Developments voided an agreement allowing Oak Tree to run the fall meet last month, shortly after taking possession of Santa Anita and other tracks from its bankrupt subsidiary, Magna Entertainment Corp., which was dissolved. Stronach was also the chairman of Magna.

The decision to void the contract has been roundly criticized by many members of the California racing industry, including the CHRB. Oak Tree had been conducting negotiations with Hollywood Park and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club to run its fall meet at either of those two tracks prior to Tuesday's board meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, Stronach had said that MI Developments did not believe it was in the company's best business interests to allow Oak Tree to conduct the fall meet, either this year or at any other time in the future.

"I've said it clearly, we do not intend anymore to have a tenant in our house," Stronach said.

Late in the meeting, Stronach said that a potential replacement had been identified for the Pro-Ride artificial surface that serves as Santa Anita's main track, which has been troubled by poor drainage. Although Stronach did not identify the surface by name, he said that a version of the new surface would be tested this winter at MID's Palm Meadows training facility in south Florida, where the heat and rain would test its effectiveness. The surface consists largely of silica sand and has been used at equestrian centers in Spain and in Vienna, he said.

"It's basically got pipes underneath, a liner, and you have a filter and silica sand," Stronach said.

The new surface would not be ready for either the Oak Tree meeting in late September or the traditional winter meeting that opens Dec. 26.