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Los Alamitos faces challenges in second meet
CYPRESS, Calif. – Reconfiguring the racing circuit in Southern California was always going to be a bumpy ride. So was rebranding a racetrack.
Los Alamitos opens Friday for an 11-day fall Thoroughbred meet which replaces the Los Angeles County Fair meet held at Fairplex Park. The decision by Fairplex to cease live racing, along with Hollywood Park’s closure, meant the circuit lost two tracks in a year.
But the racing never stopped. Santa Anita extended its winter-spring meet until late June, Los Alamitos will host three short Thoroughbred meets, and Del Mar added a fall season. The year-round racing motor sputtered, misfired, but kept on chugging.
Los Alamitos general manager Brad McKinzie acknowledged the track’s initial 2014 Thoroughbred meet, an eight-day run July 3-13, was a trial.
“We knew we were in a tough spot,” McKinzie said. “When you have Del Mar waiting in front of you, with the purses they offer, we knew summer was going to be a tough meet. The first week, our numbers were great. And then, quite frankly, it fell apart.”
Average field size the first week of summer was 7.41 starters per race; average field size the second week was 6.55. The meet began strong and then fizzled. Los Alamitos faced a difficult test. The track had a reputation as a top Quarter Horse track, but an all-Thoroughbred meet was not custom.
“We had to rebrand ourselves, which is extremely difficult,” McKinzie said. “We had to establish Los Alamitos as a brand for Thoroughbred racing.”
The fall meet begins Friday with an appealing eight-race card, with an average field size of 8.5. It is a good start. The hope is by reducing the meet to 11 days, from the 13 days previously run in the fall at Fairplex, quality will increase. Los Alamitos runs its Sept. 5-21 meet Friday through Sunday opening week; Thursday through Sunday the final two weeks.
“We’d rather offer four days of quality racing than five days of marginal racing,” McKinzie said. “It’s a numbers game. If [bettors] look at our program and see nice full fields – 10-horse fields and some nines and eights – they’ll play us. It’s that simple.”
Racing secretary Bob Moreno notes two distinctions likely to improve the product from a year ago at Fairplex.
“You will never see a four-furlong race,” Moreno said, referring to the mundane half-mile races that last fall represented 25 percent (33 of 132 races) of the Fairplex program.
Secondly, the bottom claiming level has been lowered to $6,250 from the summer bottom of $8,000. Moreno believes that will improve field size. An example is in the first race of the meet – eight were entered in the restricted $6,250 claiming sprint.
First post throughout the meet is 2 p.m. Pacific. The opening card includes two maiden special weight races, an optional-claiming sprint, and the $75,000 E.B. Johnston Stakes in which Solid Wager may be poised for a minor upset.
Momentum should continue Saturday, when a strong field is expected in the $200,000 Los Alamitos Mile, including streaking sprinter Masochistic. The $75,000 Beverly Lewis Stakes also will be run, but the star on Saturday might be a horse that will work, rather than race.
California Chrome, the Kentucky Derby winner based at Los Alamitos, is scheduled to work either five furlongs or six furlongs between the third and fourth races Saturday at about 3:15 p.m. He is aiming for a Sept. 20 return in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx.
Los Alamitos all-sources handle averaged slightly more than $5 million during the eight-day summer meet. Officials expect handle to increase for the fall meet, and grow further when Los Alamitos hosts its Dec. 4-21 winter meet.
“We are looking at this fall meet as a continuation of our summer meet and our upcoming winter meet, so they all flow together,” McKinzie said. “Now, coming into this fall meet, horseplayers know how this track plays and what Los Alamitos has to offer – quality Thoroughbred racing that you can bet on.”
what the hell happened to my comment?
Disagree with McKenzie's comment regarding the 4 Furlong races. They are far from "mundane" as you need great gate jockeys, horses with good early speed to win. Although these races are short in duration, they usually make for a better wagering opportunity than a marathon event that attracts only 4 to 5 runners. This years San Juan Capistrano at SA was a great example of how a short field (event with decent talent) can become a "paceless" "really mundane" event. I've seen more pace tactics in the 4.5 Furlong and 870 Yard events that Los Alamitos offers during the evening. Owners and trainers prefer shorter races simply because they require less cost and preparation time to get horses "race ready". It are the owners that are the foundation of this sport and steps should be taken to make the sport a better opportunity for them.
Bends are too tight (small radius) for "California standards" speeds (paces) and the mile start is very much too close to the first bend giving an unfair (no compensation) advantage to the inner draws. You will see many scratches if trainers draw outside or they won't both with Los Alamitos altogether. Only races I play at Los Alamitos are 6 furlongs and maybe 5-1/2, if my horse draws outside. Los Alamitos is a good example why racing needs a good forward thinking standardization policy.
California you should be lucky you have Los Al. I'm glad I live on the Mid-Atlantic. Flat races, Harness races, Hunt races and tons of tracks. Los Al is badly needed in Cal land, be nice.
I started going to the races at Los Al. We would sneak out of English class at 2pm and sneak under the wire at the far end of the grandstands, with our lunch money ! Those were the days ! I enjoy Los Al as a 1st class off track facility, free parking, $3 admission, lots of TV's and bettiing machines, but I think live thoroughbreds need either the break, or Santa Anita dates. Los Al could remain a excellent TB training facility , because the quality horse are just not showing up for racing !
SoCal is just too greedy. They insist on running 52 weeks a year. Their low horse population and facility limitations since the closure of Hol should dictate that they only run about 40-45 weeks a year. It would help their racing overall.
wait until del mar's fall meet, they are screwed if it rains during the fall meet
they need to look at merging the northern and southern california racing circuit, golden gate should get all of fairplex's and hollywood park's old racing dates and consider moving summer qh racing to calx
They should've just left Hollywood Park, the real truth.
McKinzie does not realize that you cant "Re brand " a track that has been poorly run for decades under the same people. Everyone knows that. And thats why they will never be anything other than a "filler" track to bridge the racing schedule. On track attendance will never be strong because it is a nothing special facility. I doubt if they will ever be able to support the current purse structure with the current handle. When purses get cut back thats when the situation will get much worse.