California Thoroughbred Trainers officials met with members March 21 to update them on industry discussions for an alternative to Betfair Hollywood Park when it eventually closes for expected development.
The two most likely options have been expansions to existing racetracks at Los Alamitos or Fairplex Park. Many trainers have advocated the Fairplex option because it initially appeared to be the only one that could expand to a one-mile oval and is in Pomona, about 20 miles east of Santa Anita Park.
At the meeting of about 50 trainers, held in the Santa Anita track kitchen, trainer James Cassidy, president of CTT, said that the most recent plans Fairplex provided do not include a one-mile track, but instead would expand the current five-furlong track to six furlongs and add a five-furlong turf course.
"Right now that's the best they are going to be able to do," said Cassidy. "We had money available for a plan for a mile track." That funding, Cassidy added, was contingent on a mile track and wouldn't be available for a smaller oval.
Cassidy also reported that "San Luis Rey may be back in the picture." San Luis Rey Downs training center, owned by The Stronach Group, which also owns Santa Anita, has a one-mile track in Bonsall, Calif. It is about 30 miles north of Del Mar.
"It's clear that The Stronach Group has gotten a lot more interested within the last 10 days as to what role San Luis Rey Downs would play," said Alan Balch, executive director of the CTT.
The CTT meeting was scheduled a week after the organization sent a letter to the Thoroughbred Owners of California and copied several industry groups calling for more detailed plans of options. Cassidy said that the Fairplex plan is detailed, whereas Los Alamitos has not submitted a proposal except for "a piece of paper with a map on it that shows us what they are going to build."
Los Alamitos, located in Orange County about 30 miles south of Santa Anita, currently has a five-furlong track with a year-round Quarter Horse meet that includes limited Thoroughbred racing. The expansion would increase that track to seven furlongs without a turf course.
"It's important that we make decisions about where we want to go and what we want to do," said Cassidy. "We have to decide the best option for the majority and go with the majority."
Balch added, "Our goal on behalf of the trainers is to try to understand in detail what people are proposing, where the money is coming from, and how this would work. So far we have one proposal in detail and that's from Pomona."
Cassidy and Balch said that CTT is trying to bring all parties together to discuss the issue openly.
Trainers voiced concerns not only with which proposal would ultimately prevail but whether there would be time enough to implement it before Hollywood closes. Though Hollywood officials have given no timetable for closure, many horsemen believe it will not remain open past the end of 2013.
"People are talking about Hollywood closing this year who have never said so before," said Cassidy. He added that even if Hollywood doesn't close this year, trainers must assume it will close eventually and the industry needs to have an alternative in place.
Trainer Ray Bell pointed out the urgency for the industry to make a decision soon and begin construction. If Hollywood closed at the end of the year, Bell said horses stabled there might not have anywhere to go for a year, even if construction began almost immediately.
Trainer Bruce Headley was firmly behind the Fairplex plan because of no plans for a turf course at Los Alamitos.
"For me it's a no-brainer," he said.
Balch noted that CTT represents all California trainers, including those in Northern California. Some of them have voiced concerns about what impact increased racing at Los Alamitos would have on the northern circuit.
"We want to make sure that the trainers' perspective—all of them—are on the table and included in the deliberations," said Balch.