This story has been updated to include a statement from the U.S. Equestrian Federation.
HITS, Inc., has taken over an effort to reopen the Del Mar Horsepark, which closed suddenly at the end of 2020.
After West Palms Events announced Monday, June 6, that it was withdrawing from negotiations to reopen the horse park, citing an inability to reach an agreement over the length of the lease contract with the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which manages the 63-acre facility, the conditional contract was re-awarded Tuesday to New York-based HITS.
HITS, which currently operates hunter/jumper and dressage show circuits in Saugerties, New York; Wayne, Illinois; Ocala, Florida; Culpeper, Virginia; and Manchester, Vermont, previously submitted a bid to run the horse park, but the 22nd DAA originally selected California-based West Palms Events in January. Because HITS had already submitted a formal bid, the lease could be quickly reassigned.
“We were happy to get it, and we’re excited about it,” HITS CEO Tom Struzzieri said Wednesday, adding that he hopes to stage a grand re-opening of the facility at the beginning of 2023.
Taking over the horse park lease comes with the requirement that HITS plan and complete an estimated $3-4 million in infrastructure improvements—chiefly to address drainage and water quality issues—that were part of the reason the facility closed in 2020.
“We’ll have to solve some environmental concerns there—that’s priority one; we have a strategy for that,” he said. “Additionally, we’ll go in and change the ground in the rings, change a bit of the layout and upgrade the quality of the stabling. It’s going to be a complete facelift.”
HITS would host hunter/jumper and dressage shows at the horse park, Struzzieri said, but also would make the facility available to other equestrian disciplines and events.
Carla Echols-Hayes, co-founder Friends of Del Mar Horsepark, said she was confident Struzzieri can get the work done, noting that his resume includes developing the HITS-On-The-Hudson show grounds in New York and the Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, California, which previously was home to the HITS Desert Circuit.
“He’s absolutely a great developer, and we expect that he will turn it into a world-class show park,” Echols-Hayes said. “We’re very pleased that the 22nd DAA has awarded him the contract, and we’re really looking forward to opening in 2023.”
Del Mar Horsepark tentatively was awarded seven weeks of 2023 hunter/jumper shows under a major California calendar overhaul recently conducted by the U.S. Equestrian Federation. When the draft calendar was released May 23, USEF made clear that the dates would not be final until license agreements were signed with each organizer.
“We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops, and at this time the Federation is not reallocating the dates which were awarded at the Del Mar Horse Park to other venues,” a USEF spokesperson said in a statement.
Struzzieri said it was his understanding that the dates would stay with the facility despite the lessee changing.
“Those dates are going to go with the facility, based on what USEF has told us,” he said. “They belong to the USEF until they’re actually handed to someone.”
The dates, which stretch from July to September 2023, would be run as a new HITS circuit, Struzzieri said, though what that circuit might be called has yet to be decided.
“We’re sorting through all the excitement of this ourselves,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to getting back to California. It’s a place where we had some of our greatest success, so we’re hoping we can replicate some of that success on the coast.”