04/17/2014 9:38PM

Los Alamitos looking to acquire Fairplex September dates

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Officials with Barretts Sales and Racing at the Los Angeles County Fair are in advanced discussions with colleagues at Los Alamitos Racecourse to relocate the 13-day Fairplex meeting to the Orange County track this September, according to a Fairplex Park official.

If the racing dates are transferred, it is likely to mark the end of live racing at the Los Angeles County Fair, located at Fairplex Park in Pomona. Racing has been held at the Los Angeles County Fair since September 1933, shortly after the legalization of parimutuel racing in California.

Discussions between officials of the two tracks and other industry representatives were held on Thursday and were expected to continue on Friday, according to Mike Chee, the director of communications for Fairplex Park.
An agreement on the transfer of dates could be reached as early as Friday, he said.

“Things are going hour to hour,” Chee said late Thursday afternoon. “We’re hopeful we can close an agreement by the end of the week or early next week.”

The proposal is subject to the approval of the California Horse Racing Board. The agenda for the racing board’s April meeting at Golden Gate Fields next Friday has been published, but there is no reference to Fairplex Park’s racing dates. The racing board will meet again in May.

Fairplex Park holds racing dates from Sept. 5-21 this year.

Chee declined to reveal terms of the deal.

It was not immediately known what the meeting at Los Alamitos in September would be called, or whether a group other than Los Alamitos management would direct the operation. Los Alamitos conducted the Orange County Fair from 1977 to 1991. More recently, the track has hosted year-round racing for Quarter Horses and lower-level Thoroughbreds.

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. The track was expanded to accommodate two upcoming meetings for Thoroughbreds – a two-week meeting in July and a three-week meeting in December. Los Alamitos does not have a turf course.

The 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 racing business a boost in Southern California. Los Alamitos is in Cypress, Calif., on the northern end of affluent Orange County.

The potential transfer of fair racing dates to Los Alamitos continues a tumultuous year for Thoroughbred racing in Southern California. Hollywood Park closed its barn area in January, leading to an expansion of Thoroughbred training at Los Alamitos, Fairplex Park, and the San Luis Rey Downs training center in northern San Diego County.

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

Chee said that Fairplex Park officials were not prepared to make extensive capital improvements on its grandstand, or expand its current five-eighth-mile racing surface.

“Our Fairplex facility is a considerably older facility and Los Alamitos is better for handling horses and trainers,” Chee said. “Our facility needs considerable upgrade.

“The whole story is to give Thoroughbred a boost, to reach a new audience and reach new blood.”

Fairplex Park has long-range plans to upgrade its Finish Line simulcast facility, which is incorporated into the Barretts Sales pavilion on county fairgrounds property. Chee said plans for the upgrade have not been finalized and that the project would not be completed by September.

It was not known on Thursday what impact the transfer of Fairplex Park’s racing dates would have on the Barretts Sales operation. Barretts hosts two 2-year-olds in-training sales 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.

“I don’t think we’re ready to make any special comment about Barretts,” Chee said.

Chee said in the absence of live racing that the existing Fairplex grandstand could be used for “live concerts or live entertainment” that “don’t necessarily relate to sports.”

The potential end of Fairplex Park as a racing and training venue is a major concern to horsemen, according to Jim Cassidy, the president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers association.

“The thing that bothers me is that if we lose Fairplex Park, if something happens to Los Alamitos or Santa Anita, that’s it for us,” Cassidy said on Thursday. “Fairplex could be a great venue if handled properly.”