Track operator Capitol Racing, which decided to walk away from its harness meet in Sacramento, is moving on – to Idaho and other breeds.
Capitol will soon close its deal to take over struggling Les Bois Park, a Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse track in Boise. The company has no plans to bring harness racing to that facility.
"You can't really have harness racing without a strong breeding program and there's no homebred industry to base it on," explained Capitol general manager Alan Horowitz, who has been commuting from Sacramento to Boise.
Les Bois, which hosts live racing from May through August, is the only track in the state other than a few fairground ovals, Horowitz said.
"Idaho is an interesting state," he added. "The racing program and industry aren't as well developed as California. But it's very progressive and it certainly has much less red tape than California."
After 10 years of operating harness meets at Cal Expo, Capitol unexpectedly chose not to submit a formal bid for a new three-year lease at the state-owned facility. Capitol's current lease expires July 31. Magna Entertainment, which also had been a finalist in the bidding process, did not submit a formal proposal either.
That left the newly formed Sacramento Harness Association as the lone bidder. Headed by former California Horse Racing Board chairman Ralph Scurfield and former CHRB commissioner Jack Coffey, the SHA received a three-year contract with options for an additional three years from the state fair board on Feb. 8. The SHA, which will take over the meet in September, plans to operate as a not-for-profit enterprise designed after the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.
Capitol cited rising rent ($2.1 million a year minimum) and decreasing profits for its decision to not reapply for the Cal Expo lease. There were also several new conditions demanded by the state fair board. The company has been embattled with nighttime rival Los Alamitos Race Course in a costly legal fight over simulcast impact fees and under heavy scrutiny by the CHRB.
Instead of racing at Cal Expo, Capitol proposed to hold two three-month meets a year at Fairplex in Pomona, a move that would force Thoroughbred trainers who are based at Fairplex out of the facility. Capitol also wanted to run a winter two-month meet at Stockton's San Joaquin County fairgrounds. But the California Harness Horsemen's Association board of directors rejected the idea by a 5-4 vote on Feb. 7 during a contentious four-hour meeting in Sacramento.
"We're committed to Sacramento," said CHHA executive director Kim Hankins.
The idea of hosting a harness meeting in Pomona is not dead. Many harness horsemen still want to return to Southern California and see Pomona as a viable alternative to year-round racing in Sacramento. Fairplex's request for Fall 2005 harness dates is on the CHRB's agenda Feb. 17.