07/21/2017 9:13PM

Racing, track executives seek similar Southern California calendar in 2018

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DEL MAR, Calif. – The 2018 Southern California racing calendar will be largely unchanged from this year if racing and track executives have their say, according to a 90-minute discussion of the California Horse Racing Board’s dates committee Friday at Del Mar.

The committee – racing board chairman Chuck Winner and vice chairman George Krikorian – did not take action on Thoroughbred racing dates on the Northern and Southern California circuits. The committee is expected to meet again in August. Racing dates for 2018 are likely to be finalized in early fall.

Racing board executive director Rick Baedeker offered several proposed calendars that would leave one-week breaks in racing through part of the year and have three days of racing on some weeks, but his position was rejected by racing and track executives who said they aim to increase racing opportunities in the state over time.

One proposal introduced by Baedeker would have a week-long break during the Santa Anita winter meeting in the first week of March and a week-long break between the end of the Santa Anita spring meeting and the start of Del Mar. That schedule did not include a summer meeting at Los Alamitos.

Another calendar has continuous racing at Santa Anita through June 24 with three-day weeks in June and three-day weeks in late June and early July at a three-week Los Alamitos meeting. There also would be three-day racing weeks at Los Alamitos in September and December.

In yet another proposal, there would be week-long breaks at Santa Anita in late February and late April, a two-week meeting at Los Alamitos in July, and three-days of racing per week at Los Alamitos in September and December.

The proposals failed to gain traction from racing or track officials.

“Why don’t we stick with what we’ve done and see if it works,” TOC president Greg Avioli said. “To change for the sake of changing, I’m not sure if that will get the necessary improvement.”

The racing executives stressed that a three-year stabling and racing dates agreement between Del Mar, Los Alamitos, and Santa Anita and the Thoroughbred Owners of California that went into effect this year set a calendar for race meetings for a year-round circuit with little flexibility.

For example, Los Alamitos has eight weeks of racing per year in exchange for dedicating 850 stalls on its backstretch to Thoroughbreds that race during the day.

“To rip this up is a complete challenge,” Del Mar chief operating officer Josh Rubinstein said of the existing stabling agreement.

Repeatedly, the subject of racing days and field sizes at Southern California tracks were discussed during the meeting, frequently by Krikorian. Tracks throughout the state have struggled to draw large fields in the last year.

Earlier this year, Santa Anita canceled four days of racing because of insufficient entries. The Los Alamitos summer meeting earlier this year had a lower field size than previous meetings and had one eight-race program on a day in which nine races were scheduled.

Track officials stressed that with more than 3,000 horses at Del Mar, Los Alamitos, and the San Luis Rey Downs training center in Bonsall, Calif., that stabling is at a capacity in the region and that maximizing starts per stall has become a priority to avoid additional disruptions.

“Our job is to weed out people that don’t participate as much,” said Santa Anita racing secretary Rick Hammerle. “We don’t want to run less. We want to run more.”

The schedule for the Northern California circuit is unsettled regarding racing dates at the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale in late August and the start of a late summer meeting at Golden Gate Fields, a subject that has been discussed annually for years. Humboldt would like to run unopposed for two weeks in August, but Golden Gate Fields also is seeking those dates. This year, the tracks overlap during those weeks.

There are also discussions between the California Authority of Racing Fairs and Santa Rosa about additional racing being held at Santa Rosa through CARF. Santa Rosa is not currently a member of CARF, which represents the other fair meetings in the state. Golden Gate officials said they opposed additional dates at Santa Rosa at the expense of dates at their track.