02/07/2013 6:24PM

Fairplex seeking funding to expand in anticipation of Hollywood closing

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Fairplex Park executives said on Thursday that they are seeking “industry funding” for a proposed expansion of its racetrack at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds as an alternative venue for Thoroughbred racing when Betfair Hollywood Park eventually closes.

The expansion is dependent on financial support from other entities in California horse racing, Fairplex Park said in a statement. Executives with Fairplex Park were actively seeking support for their plan among Southern California horsemen at Santa Anita on Thursday morning.

Hollywood Park has committed to racing through 2013, but could be developed for residential and commercial purposes as early as 2014. Los Alamitos, which currently runs a Quarter Horse meeting in Cypress, Calif., has indicated a desire to expand its track and build stables to accommodate Thoroughbred racing and training when Hollywood Park closes.

Los Alamitos officials said last weekend that it plans to submit permits for expansion to the city of Cypress this month. Fairplex Park is not that far in the process, but president and chief executive officer James Henwood said in an interview on Thursday that his company wants to be “part of the long-term solution” for a revamped Thoroughbred calendar in Southern California.

There are unresolved issues regarding construction and funding for such a project.
If Hollywood Park closes after its fall meeting in December, there would be racing dates available as soon as the spring of 2014. In addition, stabling would be needed to accommodate as many as 1,000 Thoroughbreds that would be displaced from the Hollywood Park backstretch.

Henwood said that the cost of the project is not known, depending on the level of expansion. Los Alamitos officials said their project will have a cost of at least $11 million or $12 million. Henwood said the Fairplex Park figure would be higher.

In a statement released by Fairplex Park on Thursday, the company said that it would like to expand “given the opportunity for industry funding.” The expansion would lengthen the existing main track from five furlongs to six furlongs, and install a five-furlong turf course on the infield with chutes on the backstretch and the stretch run to accommodate various distances.

One blueprint that Fairplex Park officials showed trainers at Santa Anita on Thursday morning would feature wide turns, similar to Santa Anita’s, but the same short stretch currently in place at Fairplex Park.

By comparison, Los Alamitos has proposed expanding its five-furlong track to a circumference of just less than a mile. Los Alamitos does not have plans for a turf course. One financial scenario at Los Alamitos would have private funding. The track would seek an operator for Thoroughbred racing, who would pay a rental fee that would go toward the expansion costs, according to a person familiar with the proposal.

Wednesday, representatives of Fairplex Park and Los Alamitos are expected to make presentations to the board of directors of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, according to CTT Southern California vice-president Jim Cassidy.

If either track eventually conducts added Thoroughbred racing, it is likely to seek race meetings in the spring-summer and the fall to replace Hollywood Park’s dates. Los Alamitos has proposed two three-week meetings during those times. Santa Anita is expected to pick up racing dates upon the closure of Hollywood Park.

Thursday, Henwood called for “an open dialogue and for issues to be debated” on a revamped Thoroughbred calendar. He said that once underway the project could be completed “in nine months to a year,” but said there are issues related to local agencies and building permits to deal with in the short term.

“This is a big decision for the industry,” he said. “There is no perfect fit.”