04/11/2016 1:36PM

Los Alamitos hoping for good weather, large fields at repositioned meeting


Los Alamitos opens its first Thoroughbred meeting of 2016 on Thursday, a change from the past two years, when the initial meet was held in July.

The three-week meeting, which runs through May 1, will have a different stakes schedule from the July meetings and provides the Southern California Thoroughbred circuit with a break from the marathon Santa Anita meetings held in the first six months of 2014 and 2015.

Thursday’s opening-day program begins at 2 p.m. Pacific. Officials hope that an April meeting will help Los Alamitos draw larger fields to a venue that offers only racing on dirt.

This will be the first time Los Alamitos has conducted a Thoroughbred meeting that is not held immediately before or after the popular Del Mar summer meeting or prior to the start of the widely anticipated Santa Anita winter-spring meeting.

“We’re hoping that by not having a meet right before Del Mar, that we’ll be able to stay strong at the entry box,” track general manager Brad McKinzie said last weekend.

Last year, the track averaged 7.47 runners per race at the July meeting, 7.65 runners at the September meeting, and 7.14 in December.

“As with all our meets, it depends on what kind of product we put on the track,” McKinzie said. “I’m a little concerned that we don’t have too many 2-year-olds.”

Los Alamitos has scheduled three maiden races for 2-year-olds for the upcoming meeting. In past July meetings, there were numerous maiden races for 2-year-olds as well as one or two stakes for the division.

For the spring meeting, the maiden races for 2-year-olds will potentially feed runners into stakes at the Santa Anita spring-summer meeting, which runs May 5 to July 11.

The top race of the Los Alamitos spring meeting is the $200,000 Great Lady M. Stakes for fillies and mares at 6 1/2 furlongs on April 23. The race was part of the July schedule in past years.

“It will be interesting to see how the Great Lady M. will do in April instead of the summer,” McKinzie said.

The April 23 program includes an ontrack live-money handicapping contest that offers five seats to the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas next January.

An April meeting at Los Alamitos has the potential to encounter wet weather. Rain fell on the Santa Anita Derby program last Saturday, and April showers are not unheard of in Southern California, even though the region has been plagued by drought in recent years.

“Our biggest concern is the weather, which we don’t have to worry about in July,” McKinzie said. “If we encounter bad weather, it could impact the meeting.”

There are five stakes at the spring meeting, including the inaugural running of the $150,000 California Chrome Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on April 30. The race is designed to attract late-developing 3-year-olds.

Los Alamitos plans to run the $250,000 Los Alamitos Derby at its September meeting. The race was held in July the last two years.