The initial Santa Anita Autumn Meeting, formerly Oak Tree at Santa Anita, opens Sept. 30. For 41 years, the six-week fall meet at was run by the Oak Tree Racing Association. But now it is being run by Santa Anita, although the stakes races that were run during Oak Tree remain, at least for this year.
With the meeting almost upon us, George Haines, the president of Santa Anita Park, on Tuesday was honored by the for the 40 years he has been an employee at Arcadia's world-famous racetrack. Tuesday was proclaimed “George Haines Day” in Arcadia, and Haines was presented with a proclamation at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
Haines, who resides in Monrovia with wife Adrienne and sons Alex and Brian, sat down with Arcadia Patch in his office at Santa Anita for a one-on-one Q&A interview about his background and his job.
Question: What was your first job at the track?
Answer: I worked in the information booth. It was 1972, and I was 18. I had graduated from and was attending Pasadena City College and needed a job to help pay for my schooling.
Q: Wheer did you go after PCC and what was your major?
A: I attended San Diego State and Long Beach State. I graduated from Long Beach with a degree in accounting.
Q: Your late father, George, worked at Santa Anita beginning in 1935 and was the manager of the pari-mutuel department from 1954 to 1984. Was your plan to follow in his footsteps?
Q: You’ve been president since May 2010, and before that you were vice president and general manager for six years. If your father were still alive, what would your father say today about you being the president of Santa Anita.
A: I think he would say, “Wow!”
Q: The man you succeeded as president, Ron Charles, was outgoing. You seem more on the quiet side. Would you agree with that assessment?
A: Yes, I am more on the quiet side. I believe in letting my actions speak louder than my words. I am not the story here. The story is Santa Anita.
Q: There are a myriad of problems in horse racing. Do you feel that you, as the head of a racetrack, need to get involved with everything?
A: I do, although we have a very good staff of people here who offer great assistance.
Q: As always, you have a lot of promotions coming up this atumn meeting. Do you work with Allen Gutterman (the head of marketing) and Mike Willman (the director of publicity) on such things?
A: I am involved, but I rely on Allen and Mike a lot in that area. I think a great promotion is “Arcadia Day,” where anyone from Arcadia with proof of residence gets a free Clubhouse admission on opening day. We will have a Gourmet Food Truck Festival the first and last Saturdays of the meet, and those have proved very popular.
Q: There are always issues in horse racing. One that has been particularly prevalent is the track surface. You’ve had four different surfaces over the past five years. With the latest renovations done in July, do you think that issue is finally behind you?
A: I would like to think so, but it is the nature of this business that there is always going to be some negativity.
Q: There has been a lack of available racehorses in recent years and that has meant smaller fields. What is the horse inventory situation going into the autumn meet?
A: It’s better than it has been in some time. We should have 2,000 horses here at Santa Anita by the time the meet opens and there will be another 1,000 at Hollywood Park that will be available to us.
Q: Another hot issue among horse racing fans is the increase in the percentage of the takeout for exotic bets (exactas, trifectas and other wagers involving multiple horses). The idea was to increase purses sizes, but the increase has angered many horseplayers. What is your position on that issue?
A: We followed the law according to state bill 1072 that went into effect Jan 1. Since then, there has been a backlash from many of our customers. We are agreeable to exploring changes and coming up with a compromise.
Q: What is a typical day for you?
A: In this job, there is no typical day. Nothing is routine and you never know what you’re going to get hit with next.