03/27/2013 3:59PM

Fairplex planning for influx of horses if Hollywood Park closes


Fairplex Park, which is seeking more racing dates in Southern California as early as 2014, can accommodate as many as 1,200 horses on its backstretch as a secondary training center upon the expected closure of Betfair Hollywood Park, track officials said Wednesday.

Fairplex Park, in Pomona, Calif., has emerged as a leading contender to gain racing dates if Hollywood Park closes. Hollywood Park has racing dates through December of this year, but the track has not definitively stated whether it will remain open for training and racing past then.

There is widespread belief in the Southern California Thoroughbred industry that Hollywood Park will close this year. The track will close as a training center in early 2014 if construction begins on residential and commercial projects, track president Jack Liebau said Wednesday.

“If Hollywood Park is developed, training while development is under way is an impossibility,” Liebau said.

Liebau said that no announcement has been made on Hollywood Park’s plans for 2014.Fairplex Park, which operates the Los Angeles County fair race meeting each September, and Los Alamitos Racecourse, a Quarter Horse track in Cypress, Calif., approached Thoroughbred interests in the state earlier this year to be considered as an alternative venue if Hollywood Park closes.

Los Alamitos officials announced Tuesday that it is no longer actively seeking to expand and gain dates, citing a disagreement with the California Thoroughbred Trainers organization over proposed expansion and a desire to avoid a showdown with Fairplex Park over racing dates.

Fairplex Park could join Santa Anita as venues capable of hosting training in the Los Angeles area.

Kim Lloyd, general manager at Fairplex, said that the backstretch can house as many as 1,200 horses and conduct training on its existing five-eighth-mile track.

“We don’t have a plan in place, but everyone is in talks to figure it out,” Lloyd said. “We have to figure it out, but Hollywood Park hasn’t declared one way or another.”

Fairplex Park has proposed expanding its track to six furlongs and constructing a five-furlong turf course on its infield. Fairplex Park chief executive officer Jim Henwood said Wednesday that plans can be finalized and permits acquired quickly. He said construction on the $15 million project could begin Oct. 1, shortly after the Los Angeles County Fair race meeting is completed.

“I wish I had the crystal ball to know what the industry is doing,” Henwood said. “The question is how do we pay for this. We have to do what the industry feels will be beneficial.”Henwood said that Fairplex Park would likely seek some financing through the bond market, but said that could be difficult. “Racing is a difficult business to finance,” he said. “It will need a funding source to rely on.”Funding is contingent on securing additional racing dates at Fairplex Park for the summer and fall to replace Hollywood Park. Santa Anita and Del Mar are expected to ask the California Horse Racing Board for additional dates when Hollywood Park closes.If Hollywood Park closes, some horsemen will seek stalls at Santa Anita, while many trainers could face stables split between Santa Anita and Fairplex Park.

“It has to be done with a fair assessment, whether someone has two horses or 22,” CTT president Jim Cassidy said.

Cassidy said the scenarios for expanding Fairplex Park, or even Los Alamitos, could change rapidly as the year continues.

“Someone asked me, ‘If Los Alamitos is out, what do we do?’ ” he said. “I said this is Wednesday. Ask me on Thursday or Friday.”