05/24/2013 2:51PM

With California dates assigned, stabling options next on agenda


With the assignment of racing dates for 2014 and 2015 by the California Horse Racing Board on Thursday, finding stabling for more than 1,000 Thoroughbreds displaced by the upcoming closure of Betfair Hollywood Park will be the primary focus of meetings between horsemen and track officials next week.

Officials from Southern California’s four remaining racetracks – Del Mar, Barretts Racing at Fairplex Park, Los Alamitos, and Santa Anita – and three horsemen’s organizations – the Thoroughbred Owners of California, California Thoroughbred Trainers, and California Thoroughbred Breeders Association – are expected to meet Tuesday to discuss off-track stabling locations and funding sources. A representative of the racing board is also expected attend the discussions.

At Thursday’s racing board meeting in Sacramento, the board assigned dates for the next two years, giving Santa Anita and Del Mar expanded dates to replace Hollywood Park, which will close as a training and racing facility at the end of this year.

For the 2014 racing season, Santa Anita will run from Dec. 26, 2013 to July 6, 2014 and from Sept. 25 to Nov. 2. Del Mar will run from July 16 to Sept. 3 and have a new fall meeting from Nov. 5 to Dec. 7. Fairplex Park will run the Los Angeles County Fair meeting from Sept. 4 to Sept. 23.

The one surprise from Thursday’s meeting was the request from Los Alamitos to host two weeks of Thoroughbred racing in December 2014. The brief meeting would be held from Dec. 11-21.

“We will definitely be racing for two weeks next year,” Los Alamitos consultant Brad McKinzie said on Friday. “We are very excited about it.

“It will be something different. People that have been around for awhile may remember the Orange County Fair.”

Los Alamitos, which conducts year-round Quarter Horse racing, has not conducted a meeting primarily for Thoroughbreds since the 18-day Orange County Fair in August 1991. McKinzie said it was unclear whether the 2014 December meeting would be operated by Los Alamitos track owner Ed Allred or in conjunction with another group, such as the Oak Tree Racing Association.

Oak Tree operated fall meetings at Santa Anita from its inception in 1969 to 2009 and at Hollywood Park in 2010. At Thursday’s racing board meeting, Oak Tree officials spoke in support of a Los Alamitos December race season.

Los Alamitos may have a role as an off-track stabling site although there are conflicting opinions between CTT and TOC officials about which venues are best suited to replace the stables lost at Hollywood Park.

TOC officials have recommended that 500 horses be at Los Alamitos and approximately 500 at San Luis Rey Downs training center in northern San Diego county. San Luis Rey Downs is owned by The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita. The Stronach Group has committed to a refurbishment of the main track and stables at San Luis Rey Downs this year, and has said that the construction of a turf course is planned.

CTT officials prefer off-track stabling be conducted at Fairplex Park in Pomona, approximately 20 miles from Santa Anita. Officials at Fairplex have expressed an interest in staying open year round as a training center.

Jim Cassidy, president of the CTT, said that he was skeptical that San Luis Rey Downs could be refurbished before the end of the year when Hollywood Park closes. “When you do it, I’ll believe it,” he said on Friday.

Cassidy said that Fairplex Park “is a viable plan” that will aid in filling races at Santa Anita because of its proximity. “We’re going to be heard,” he said, emphasizing his members’ desire to be based at Fairplex Park.

Fairplex Park and Los Alamitos have five-eighth-mile racetracks, much smaller than Hollywood Park’s main track, which is 1 1/8 miles in circumference. There are Quarter Horses based at Los Alamitos, but the barn area at that track is not at capacity.

Joe Morris, general manager of Golden Gate Fields who will become the president of the TOC in June and represented that organization at Thursday’s racing board meeting, said cost is the main issue involving off-track stabling. Since the late 1980s, the cost of off-track stabling has been offset by a portion of mutuel handle from off-track betting locations.

With the migration of off-track betting to account wagering through the Internet and telephone in the last decade, the amount of money from that fund has been depleted.

“The stabling and vanning fund has shrinking dollars,” Morris said. “I don’t care where we stable. I want it to be safe. It has to fit in the financial model that we have. This isn’t a popularity contest.”

Beginning in 2014, the TOC, Del Mar, and Santa Anita intend to set aside a portion of operating profits from race meetings to provide additional funds for off-track stabling. In the long-term, Morris said that an alternative stabling venue could be acquired or developed in addition to the current tracks available.

“We want to set money aside so we can secure more stabling,” he said. “We’re looking to have a five- or 10-year plan. Fairplex Park is there, but it’s a five-eighth-mile track and Los Alamitos is a smaller track. We need to have money set aside so we can invest.”

Los Alamitos can accommodate up to 500 Thoroughbreds, McKinzie said.

“If the industry needs us, we’re there,” he said.