The Los Angeles County Fair Association, which operates Fairplex Park and the Barretts Thoroughbred auction firm, is looking into alternate uses for its stable area, but is not planning to get out of the racing or horse selling business in the near future, according to James Henwood, the president and CEO of the not-for-profit corporation that is based in Southern California.
The LACFA has applied for a conditional permit from the City of Pomona, where Fiarplex and Barretts are located, that would allow the nine barns (with approximately 500 stalls) in the Barretts sale complex to be converted into office, manufacturing, or warehouse facilities. Any changes probably won’t take place this year, according to Henwood, and initially only three of the barns would be involved. If the remaining barns don’t have enough stalls to accommodate sale horses, the animals could be stabled in the barns used for racehorses, he said.
“This organization feels terrible that we have to seek other ways to do our business other than Thoroughbred racing and sales, but this is not our choice,” Henwood explained. “We have to look at ways to control our destiny because the Califiornia Thoroughbred industry fails to see our value and there has been no action on its part to safeguard Barretts or Fairplex Park.”
The LACFA shut down its operations as a year-round training center at Fairplex last fall because it lost a subsidy from an off-track wagering tax that provided financial support for that venture. Racing is conducted at Fairplex only in September.
The Fairplex barn area that is used for racehorses has around 1,800 stalls, and Henwood is considering converting three of the barns there into public storage facilities. His proposal to expand the five-furlong Fairplex track to a mile and offer more racing dates has not received a favorable response from California racing leaders, he said, even though the future of Hollywood Park is uncertain.
“We have no intention of shutting down Barretts, and we have no intention of walking away from our racing, so don’t go setting off the alarm bells,” Henwood said. “What we are trying to do is find alternative business uses for our vacant barns. This is a regretful result of actions that our industry has taken in the climate of our economy as it is today.”
During the recent Barretts March select sale of 2-year-olds in training, the gross revenue was about the same as a year ago, but the average and median prices declined.
“We own Barretts, and we have no real debt on it,” Henwood said. “Are we making money on it? No. But we’re not losing any money either. Our Barretts business, like most of the auction business, is really challenging right now. You try to lower the costs so they can be covered by the available revenue that you have.”
The Barretts schedule has four auctions this year. In addition to the March sale and a mixed sale earlier this year, Barretts will host a May sale of 2-year-olds in training and a yearling sale in October.
Henwood said he is committed to conducted sales at Barretts through 2011.