With the future of Hollywood Park in doubt, prominent Thoroughbred owner Mike Pegram and Los Alamitos Race Course owner Dr. Edward C. Allred unveiled a $40 million plan March 17 to expand and upgrade the Quarter Horse facility in order to fill an expected void in the Southern California market.
The partnership – with Pegram financing the capital improvements and Allred handling day-to-day operations – could have its plan ready for Thoroughbred racing in two years or less, Allred said.
"Everybody has heard the rumors on Hollywood Park," Pegram said during an interview on TVG. "We're just pursuing it to give us another option as Thoroughbred owners in Southern California."
Located in Cypress on the western edge of Orange County, the track is 26 miles south of Hollywood Park. It is currently configured with a five eighths-mile dirt track, 12,000 grandstand and restaurant seats and 1,400 horse stalls. The renovation would enlarge the main track to one mile with an inner seven-furlong turf course. It would add seating for 3,000 grandstand patrons and 700 new stalls.
That would allow Los Alamitos to run 20 weeks of Thoroughbred racing while continuing to race Quarter Horses year-round.
"We're right here in the heart of Orange County and that's an exciting market in itself," Pegram noted. "From a business standpoint you need two things to be successful. You need horses and you need fans. We got a whole new fan base down here and by coming into this market we'll hopefully be able to explore that.
"The other options I see to race in Southern California are to race year round at Santa Anita. I love Santa Anita but I don't want to be there in June and July. Or you got Pomona. Or you can build a new racetrack and I don't think the economics allow for a new racetrack to be built. This is a great thing that Ed Allred is giving us here. He owns this property and we can enter into a lease and bring some stability to Southern California racing."
Hollywood Park, which opened in 1938, has been rumored for sale by parent company Churchill Downs Inc., although the owner has steadfastly refused to comment on any negotiations. However, the Thoroughbred Owners of California has been exploring alternatives to racing at the Inglewood track for several months. Hollywood Park races this year from April 22 to July 17 and again from Nov. 9 through Dec. 19. It would need to reapply for dates with the California Horse Racing Board in 2006.
"We would apply for dates as soon as possible," Pegram said, in the event that Hollwyood Park did not. "We need to know what Hollywood Park is going to do so we can begin to implement our improvements."
Pegram, who raced Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet as well as Eclipse award-winning filly Silverbulletday, was previously involved with an effort to purchase Fair Grounds in New Orleans but lost out to Churchill Downs. He says he has no idea what CDI plans to do with the Hollywood Park property. "After that experience (in New Orleans) I would never want to guess what Churchill Downs intends to do."
Allred will remain the owner of Los Alamitos and all operations at the track would remain under his control. In addition, Allred will continue to operate Los Alamitos as a satellite betting facility and operate the track's Quarter Horse racing program.
"We think there is a lot of symbiosis as a year-round facility, a simulcast facilty and Quarter Horse venue at night and potentially 20 weeks of Thoroughbred racing if we were successful in acquiring those dates if Hollywood Park ever gives those dates up," Allred said. "A lot has to be done politically in many areas before this can become a reality. But Mike and I are kindred souls I believe, in our thinking, and I think we will make very successful and aggressive partners.
"I think we can do this in two years. The track part of it is actually three to six months at most. But the other things, getting the permits and other things involved, we'd be looking at a two-year format for that."
"Without Ed Allred's full support as the owner of Los Alamitos I wouldn't even consider this venture," said Pegram. "Also, if I didn't feel we could build a first-class Thoroughbred facility, I would not move forward. All you have to do is take one walk around Los Alamitos and you can see the potential for revitalizing Thoroughbred racing in Southern California."
Allred has been the sole owner of Los Alamitos Race Course for more than 10 years. The track was built in 1961.
"We've always believed Los Alamitos is a prime location for horse racing in California," said Allred. "I hold no personal interest in pursuing Thoroughbred dates and so it was essential for someone like Mike to step forward and take on that responsibility. I am very comfortable supporting Mike in this. This could be a wonderful opportunity for California horse racing."
Pegram said there were preliminary discussions with CDI about participating in the new project should there be a change in Hollywood Park's status. He would not say how the suggestion was received. Instead, he focused on the potential for Los Alamitos.
"What would be best for our racing business?" Pegram asked. "Do we just add more dates to the meets we already have and do more of the same, or do we try something exciting and open up a great market that could breathe some new life into our sport? If you tried to build a new Thoroughbred track in Orange County, the price of real estate alone could drive the costs over $400 million, but by expanding Los Alamitos we get a $400 million facility at a cost that makes sense for racing."
"If opening up a new market like Orange County has the support of the California racing industry, we will move forward. If this project does not receive that support, we will walk away and it will be business as usual in California."
Parsky Associates, an architectural and planning firm that has been involved with numerous racing projects including Churchill Downs, Hollywood Park, and Longchamp in Paris, is nearing completion of a preliminary feasibility study of the new racing surfaces as well as the location of the new barns and paddock. The completed report is expected within two weeks.
Other changes include a complete remodel of the existing grandstand and clubhouse buildings and the installation of family-friendly patron facilities in the infield.