The president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers wants a more transparent process for selecting the track that will eventually succeed Betfair Hollywood Park and is also calling for renewed consideration of Fairplex Park.
Trainer James Cassidy, in a March 14 letter to the board of directors of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said expanding Fairplex may be a better alternative than Los Alamitos Race Course, which has been the primary focus of the state's racing industry as the replacement facility.
In the letter, he noted that whichever alternative site is selected, it must be remembered that the facility is primarily going to be used for training, not racing. Fairplex, he said, is in "close proximity to Santa Anita, where most of the vacated Hollywood Park racing weeks would be run, (and) is of critical importance to owners, trainers, and to Santa Anita, which must be expected to fill more races over more weeks than ever before."
In a follow-up phone conversation, Cassidy said that Fairplex is part of the state fair system and is publicly owned. That makes it a much more secure location over the long haul than Los Alamitos, which is in Orange County and is subject to the same development pressure that has led to the impending demise of Hollywood Park.
Cassidy has scheduled a meeting of Southern California trainers Thursday, March 21, for a presentation of the Fairplex proposal, which would expand its current track to one mile with a seven-furlong inner turf course. The meeting is at 11 a.m in the stable cafeteria at Santa Anita Park.
Hollywood has not made an announcement on its future plans beyond pledging to run through 2013, but most industry observers do not expect the track to continue racing after this year. That has contributed to a sense of urgency in finding a replacement training site.
Fairplex resurfaced last month in the Hollywood replacement discussions. Jim Henwood, the president and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles County Fair facility, said in January that he did not think the racing industry had the financial resources to privately fund the Fairplex expansion plan. However, Cassidy said Henwood changed his mind after hearing from horsemen that said they would prefer Fairplex to Los Alamitos.
"Jim has been a little hesitant to make changes, but we have a couple of irons in the fire that we are working on with (Fairplex)," Cassidy said. "The clock is ticking on this. If Hollywood is closing, we have to be ready to go."
In the meantime, Cassidy was critical of the TOC's approach to negotiations, saying in his letter that the owners' group "has been neither inclusive nor transparent" on an issue that is vital to the future of California racing. "It has led to suspicion, mistrust and misinformation," Cassidy added.
He accused the TOC of hampering the trainers' group from making objective evaluations of their options by withholding "critical, verified information."
"Given TOC's legislated role in California racing, its lack of correct governance and transparent consideration in the present circumstance is unconscionable," Cassidy wrote.
Cassidy added that "it is apparent from published reports and presentations to the CTT Board of Directors, that TOC's principals have been pursuing some kind of arrangement with Los Alamitos," while excluding Fairplex.
The California Horse Racing Board is yet to hold a public hearing into the Hollywood Park replacement options. The board's next meeting is April 11 at Santa Anita. Newly elected chairman David Israel did not return a phone message seeking comment on whether the CHRB will be addressing the topic at that time.
In his letter, Cassidy said the planned expansion at Los Alamitos would create "serious safety issues" with 1,700 Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses on the grounds using a track expanded to seven furlongs. He noted the planned track expansion would be undertaken by lengthening the straightaways without any "proportional expansion of the current turn curvatures."
"It doesn't take an engineer to understand the significant added stress that will be put on horses training or racing on such a disproportionate track," he wrote.