Transitions in California Racing

Warren Stute has changed barns. If he can hear me, I know he will smile. I always took his smiles as more than just smiles. They were messages of approval.

 Warren exercised horses for as long as he was able. When he no longer could do that, he rode his pony until he could no longer do that. For the last few months, he would walk back and forth to and from his barn. Near the end, his son, Glen, would almost have to carry him to the track and back. But Warren wouldn’t give up. He was a horse trainer. Nobody who gives up is a horse trainer. Everyday with every horse is a new challenge and a new inspiration to keep trying.
He lived his life quietly and, unless you had horses in his care, he would let you have your say. Warren had very firm convictions, but he had the grace and wisdom to silently accept that others also had a right to their opinions. And, so long as you didn’t try to get him to change his mind, he allowed you the latitude to speak your mind. He learned to be that way because he came through the University of Horse Training. You don’t impose your will on a horse. You accept that a horse has legitimate reasons for the things it does. If you want a horse to change, you join with it in finding acceptable reasons to change. If you can’t come to a mutual understanding with a horse, you find it a new home. Warren dealt with people in the same way. If he disagreed with you, he didn’t have to say anything, but you knew it. His silence forced you to take a critical look at your own beliefs. Warren Stute was a very wise man, and I’m a better person for having known him. I shall miss him.
Warren lived through an era in horse racing when training was an art. He leaves at a time when training involves as much science as art. Modern chemistry, new medical procedures, and new technologies trump modern art. New surfaces dictate new training and racing strategies. And, in California new racing venues are soon to replace Hollywood Park and Bay Meadows. Where we go from here is the subject of continuing discussions between the CHRB, existing racing associations, fairs, the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC), and the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT). The most pressing of these discussions involve how to orchestrate successful and painless transitions out of Hollywood Park and out of Bay Meadows.
The industry will have to create modern facilities to fill voids in the Northern and Southern California racing calendars. Those facilities will also have to handle the housing and training needs for over two thousand horses that will be displaced when the current facilities close. In the world of professional sports, public financing and contribution by local government have become the methods of choice for creating new stadiums and arenas. We find ourselves in the same situation. The high cost of land and the continually skyrocketing cost of building make it impossible to create new privately owned urban racetracks. In the North, there are no currently existing facilities that can adequately replace Bay Meadows. In the South, the only existing alternative on private land is at Los Alamitos, but plans to expand that facility have been dropped. Fortunately, the fairs are willing to come to the rescue.
Both the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton and the California State Fairgrounds in Sacramento have indicated a desire to become the new second home for Northern California racing. In the South, Fairplex at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds would like the opportunity. Extensive remodeling plans have been created and expanded barn areas are planned. Racing on a year-round basis will survive, but guarantees need to be made. Bonds must be floated that would finance the new facilities. Fairplex, Pleasanton and/or Sacramento can only start construction if they are guaranteed sufficient racing dates to create enough income to pay off the anticipated debt. Thirty months from start to finish is the estimated time necessary to complete a new facility. We cannot afford to wait. One never knows how long these offers to create new facilities will remain on the table. If we don’t accept the offers soon, they could be withdrawn and we will find ourselves without alternatives. Sooner or later Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park are closing. Both the CTT and the TOC Boards of Directors have agreed that now is the time to move forward. We are asking Terry Fancher, who controls both Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park, to assist in an orderly transition. If he doesn’t, it’s going to be a complicated three-year transition. But trainers make a living by solving problems on a daily basis, so a few more problems are just part of the daily life of a trainer. Mr. Fancher has often said that he truly cares about racing. Now is the time for him to prove it.
In another transition worth noting, Jenine Sahadi has completed two-terms on the CTT Board of Directors. She has been President of the CTT for the past five years. During her tenure and with her guidance, the CTT has played a part in all of the major changes that have taken place within the industry. The two most notable of those changes were the requirement of the installation of synthetic surfaces and the elimination of the use of alkalizing agents. The former will allow hundreds, if not thousands, of horses to have longer and healthier careers, and the latter has helped to ensure an even playing field for all trainers and owners. As important as those accomplishments are, her dedication to the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation is likely to have the most long-lasting effect. She could but will not take credit for raising well over one million dollars for the Foundation. That money is being used to provide scholarships to the children of backstretch workers and will change lives for generations to come. It is in Jenine’s nature not to accept praise or gratitude, but both are hereby extended.

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Northern California Report