04/21/2014 5:30PM

Deal reached to move racing dates from Fairplex Park to Los Alamitos


September Thoroughbred racing in Southern California is moving to Los Alamitos.

On Monday, officials with Los Alamitos and Barretts Sales and Racing at the Los Angeles County Fair reached an agreement to relocate the 11-day race meeting previously run at Fairplex Park on the Los Angeles County fairgrounds to Los Alamitos.

The deal is contingent upon approval by the California Horse Racing Board, which could discuss the issue as early as its monthly meeting at Santa Anita on May 22. The issue is not expected to be discussed at the racing board’s next meeting at Golden Gate Fields on Friday.

The move will require legislative approval allowing the Los Angeles County Fair to run its race meeting in another county. Los Alamitos is located in adjacent Orange County, about 35 miles from the Los Angeles County fairgrounds in Pomona.

The expected transfer of the racing dates would mark the end of live racing at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona. Racing began at the Los Angeles County Fair in September 1933, shortly after the legalization of pari-mutuel racing in California.

In a statement issued Monday, county fair chief executive Jim Henwood said the Fairplex Park facility was no longer viable.

“With the limitations of our facility, we made a strategic decision for the continued growth of the industry to reach out to Los Alamitos and seek to move our dates to their facility,” he said.

Fairplex Park was allotted racing days from Sept. 5-21 this year. Last year, Fairplex Park ran a 13-day meeting during the corresponding time, a three-day weekend followed by two five-day racing weeks from Wednesdays through Sundays. Los Alamitos is expected to run an 11-day meeting in September, dropping the two Wednesdays.

Earlier this year, Los Alamitos completed a renovation of its main track to expand the racing surface from five-eighths of a mile to a mile in circumference. The expanded track was completed to accommodate two meetings for Thoroughbreds already scheduled – a two-week meeting in July and a three-week meeting in December. Los Alamitos does not have a turf course.

Those dates were previously held by Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif., which closed last December. Other dates previously held by Hollywood Park were awarded to Del Mar and Santa Anita.

The addition of the Los Angeles County Fair dates would give Los Alamitos eight weeks of Thoroughbred racing this year. Some industry officials expect the addition of afternoon Thoroughbred racing at Los Alamitos to give the racing business a boost in Southern California. Los Alamitos is in Cypress, on the northern end of affluent Orange County. Los Alamitos currently runs a year-round night meeting for Quarter Horses and lower-level Thoroughbreds.

The decision to shift the Fairplex Park racing dates to Los Alamitos was approved by the Thoroughbred Owners of California, which released the statement Monday announcing the agreement.

“With the marketplace challenges horse racing faces, it is more important than ever that we connect our sport with a new audience,” said TOC president Joe Morris. “Los Alamitos has made a tremendous investment in the past year to build a first-class one-mile track, and they are located right in the middle of an exciting new market in Orange County.”

Los Alamitos has capacity for 500 Thoroughbreds, which is being expanded to 700 with the construction of new stalls. Track officials have said temporary stalls could be in place during live race meetings to expand capacity for Thoroughbreds to 900. The track has started several capital improvement projects to its grandstand.

“We plan to immediately work with the CHRB and other industry stakeholders to make sure these racing dates are used to add value to the California Thoroughbred racing calendar,” Brad McKinzie, the general manager of the Los Alamitos Thoroughbred meetings, said in a statement.

On Thursday, a spokesman said Fairplex Park was not prepared to make extensive capital improvements on its grandstand or expand its current five-furlong racing surface, leading to the decision to cease racing there.

If the deal goes through, Fairplex Park will be the second racetrack to close in the Los Angeles area in the past year. But unlike the last meeting at Hollywood Park, which saw fans flock to the Inglewood track in its final days last December, Fairplex Park would not get a sendoff.

In Monday's statement, Fairplex Park officials stressed that they will remain in the racing business with a simulcast operation, the Finish Line sports grill, which is located within the Barretts Sales pavilion. The simulcast business will be expanded, Fairplex Park officials have said.

It was not immediately known what impact the transfer of Fairplex Park’s racing dates would have on the Barretts Sales operation. Barretts hosts two sales of 2-year-olds in training in March and May. The Fairplex Park racetrack is used for training previews in advance of those sales. Barretts also hosts a mixed sale in January and a yearling sale in October.