Racing Rivals : Bids to Run Horse Track Bend Rules

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Times Staff Writer

The odds may have improved Tuesday that the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club will win the right to continue running the Del Mar race track when it became apparent that its five rivals want contract provisions that would require key policy changes by the Fair Board.

The thoroughbred club, which has run the annual 43-day meet for 19 years, stayed strictly within Fair Board policies in its bid to win a 20-year renewal.

But the club’s competitors--including spray paint baron Earl Scheib, Hialeah Park race-track owner John Brunetti, and a partnership involving the Nederlander entertainment promoters--suggested innovations that would require the Fair Board to reverse itself on issues involving the future of the Del Mar fairgrounds.


Battleground Shifts

As a result, the battleground over the lease now shifts from the state Race Track Leasing Commission to the Fair Board. Terms of the bids became public Tuesday at an all-day meeting in Del Mar of a commission subcommittee.

Fair Board member Jan Anton, who also serves on the leasing commission and the subcommittee, said that, if the Fair Board proves immovable, the bids of three competitors will essentially be “out the window,” since the issues involved are crucial to the bids.

The three are American Data Group, Nederlander and Bloom, London & Associates.

In the case of the other two bidders--Brunetti and Scheib--the construction projects mentioned in their bids involve divided authority between the leasing commission and the Fair Board. Opposition by the Fair Board could hurt their chances for winning the contract.

Discussion Date Set

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Anton said the Fair Board will discuss at its Sept. 13 meeting whether it is willing to change its policies to accommodate the bids from the Thoroughbred Club’s rivals.

The board’s decision will then be relayed to the commission subcommittee, which hopes to have a recommendation to the full commission by late October.

The Thoroughbred Club, a nonprofit group whose board of directors includes some of San Diego County’s leading business people and civic leaders, has offered, in effect, more of the same at Del Mar.


“You know us, you know what we’ve accomplished,” General Manager Joe Harper told the subcommittee. “Since we’ve had the lease, the daily handle has increased 300%, attendance 100%, and purses 600%.”

Crowds, Handle Down

Rivals for the bid noted, however, that attendance was stagnant from 1982 to 1987, payments to the state have declined because of increasing costs, and both attendance and handle are down sharply this year because Los Angeles residents can place bets for Del Mar races through satellite wagering at their home tracks.

“This past outfit has had 20 years to put in new (horse) stalls out there,” Scheib said. “They got a few. They’re falling down. Come on, give the horsemen a break.”

Scheib wants the Fair Board to scrap plans for a $75-million, 15,000-seat grandstand--a cornerstone of fairground building plans. His attorneys said the grandstand is unneeded, overpriced and will drain money from other fairground needs.

Cost Figure Doubted

Anton and fellow Fair Board member Raymond Saatjian, who also serves on the leasing commission and its subcommittee, appeared incredulous at Scheib’s suggestion that a $20-million renovation of the current grandstand would be sufficient.

Brunetti, a blunt-talking New Jersey construction magnate and part-time resident of Carlsbad, said he would like to rearrange the entire fairgrounds to separate the fair site from the race track, which would mean overhauling the Fair Board’s long-range building plans.


Like several other bidders, he said the Thoroughbred Club has not done enough to promote the track or bring in new patrons.

His attorney, Rodney Blonien, promised that, when it comes to being a promoter, Brunetti “is almost to racing what P. T. Barnum was to circus activities.”

Wants Harness Races

American Data Group, an Illinois company involved in computers, cable television and race-track bookkeeping services, wants to hold a 90-day night harness race season and to assume control over satellite wagering at Del Mar.

After a money-losing season in the early 1980s, the Fair Board opted out of harness racing. It has also chosen to retain control over satellite wagering, which began last fall.

Saatjian suggested that night harness racing could provoke a fight from the Del Mar City Council, which is backing the thoroughbred club.

Nederlander Corp., which has joined the Ogden Corp., a New York-based conglomerate involved in food concessions, construction and race-track management, in a joint bid, wants the right to promote concerts throughout the year.


Meet Authority Only

Since the leasing commission only has authority over the 43-day meet, the Nederlander/Ogden bid would require concurrence from the Fair Board, which has not sought in the past to expand the fairgrounds’ concert season.

The bid from Bloom, London & Associates of Encino seeks virtual year-round control of the fairgrounds.

The partnership provided the slimmest bid proposal--less than two pages contrasted with book-length proposals from other bidders--and was the only bidder not to send a representative to Tuesday’s meeting.

The partners are Dr. Leon Bloom of Encino and Arnold London, an accountant from Boston.

The leasing commission is composed of both state officials and Fair Board members. The new lease would begin in the 1990 season.