07/14/2014 1:06PM

Valuable lessons noted at new Los Alamitos summer meet

Shigeki Kikkawa
Shared Belief wins the Los Alamitos Derby on July 5.

CYPRESS, Calif. – The Los Alamitos summer meeting ended Sunday with an average all-sources handle of $5,070,966, a figure track officials expect will increase when live racing resumes for brief race meetings in September and December.

Attendance averaged 3,567, while average ontrack handle was $392,648.

The eight-day meeting took the place of dates previously run at Hollywood Park, which permanently closed in December. Two weeks before Hollywood Park closed, Los Alamitos gained approval from the city of Cypress to expand the circumference of its track from five-eighths of a mile to a mile to accommodate year-round Thoroughbred training and racing.

The new configuration was used during the summer meeting. The expanded part of the track was developed on grounds formerly used as a golf course. The smaller track is still in use for night races at a meet that is largely for Quarter Horses.

“People forget that six months ago, that racetrack was an overgrown golf course,” general manager Brad McKinzie said on closing day. “We put on a race meeting on a track that jockeys and trainers are saying that they universally liked.”

McKinzie said business comparisons with Hollywood Park are difficult because Los Alamitos conducted its first Thoroughbred meeting this summer since the final Orange County fair was run in 1991.

“We are a first-time track,” McKinzie said. “Hollywood had 70 years of tradition and branding in the industry.”

During the same eight days of racing in 2013, Hollywood Park had an average all-sources handle of $8,514,432, running a total of 73 races on a synthetic main track and a turf course.

Los Alamitos conducted 67 races during its eight-day meeting, drawing an average field of 6.99 runners.

The position of the meeting, in the weeks before the popular Del Mar meeting, which has the highest purses on the circuit, made attracting horses more difficult. McKinzie said the track’s 11-day meeting from Sept. 5-21 and 12-day meeting from Dec. 4-21 are likely to have stronger business and larger fields.

“The key to a race meeting is horse population and full fields, and we got hurt with [some] four-horse fields [during the meet],” McKinzie said. “We showed the track can put on a first-class Thoroughbred meeting. I think September will be a better meet than this one because we’ll fill races better. I think December will be better than the September meeting. This was the first step. We needed to show we could do it.”

Los Alamitos does not have a turf course, a significant difference from racing at Hollywood Park.

McKinzie said purses were overpaid during the meeting, and that the track has reached an agreement with the Thoroughbred Owners of California to repay the balance over a two-year period. The amount of the overpayment was not immediately known.

McKinzie said that by the end of the month, barn capacity for year-round training of Thoroughbreds who race during the day in Southern California will be expanded to 700 stalls.

“We’ll find our niche,” McKinzie said. “Will we ever handle as much as Santa Anita or Del Mar? No, but we’ll find our niche. Come and talk to us in two years. If we had an unsafe racetrack and had been unable to fill races, then we’d have a problem.”

Apprentice jockey Drayden Van Dyke, 19, won his first riding title, finishing with 12 wins from 31 mounts, four more wins than Joe Talamo, who won the riding title at the spring-summer meeting at Santa Anita. Van Dyke began riding last November.

Peter Miller was the leading trainer with three wins, one more than 15 trainers who had two wins each.

Shared Belief, the champion 2-year-old male of 2013, won the richest race of the meeting, the $500,500 Los Alamitos Derby on July 5.