Los Alamitos Race Course will press ahead with plans to conduct Thoroughbred racing in the absence of Betfair Hollywood Park next year, representatives of the Orange County track announced Sept. 12.
The track is on the agenda for the California Horse Racing Board Sept. 19, when it plans to formally request allocation of daytime Thoroughbred race dates for 2014 and 2015. In recent appearances before the board, Los Alamitos has indicated an interest in applying for Thoroughbred dates while also acting as a year-round training facility.
Los Alamitos Race Course plans to request five weeks of Thoroughbred racing each year highlighted by a stakes schedule that will include the adoption of several historic Hollywood Park races. Pending CHRB approval, the 2014 dates would be split between a two-week summer meeting starting July 3 and ending July 13, and a three-week winter meeting Dec. 4 through Dec. 21.
The CHRB has already approved some of those dates on a conditional basis and would need to revise that action, which was agreed to by Santa Anita Park, Del Mar, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California.
Thoroughbred racing would be conducted on a Thursday through Sunday basis with the summer meeting featuring racing July 4. Los Alamitos will continue to conduct its nighttime Quarter Horse racing concurrently with the new Thoroughbred meet. Los Alamitos races Quarter Horses year-round.
The boutique meets would help Los Alamitos pay for expansion of its five-furlong track to a full one-mile oval dirt track, as well as some additional barn space needed to accommodate up to 700 Thoroughbreds. The track adjustment will include the widening of the turns to address concerns from trainers who felt the original concept for enlarging the track left the turns too tight, according to Dr. Ed Allred, owner of Los Alamitos.
"I signed a contract with representatives of Santa Anita and the Thoroughbred Owners of California on Wednesday (Sept. 11) and this deal will be presented to the CHRB at its next meeting," Allred said in a statement. "Los Alamitos will add stalls to its barn area, as we will stable about 700 additional Thoroughbred horses. Los Alamitos will also be available as a year-round training facility."
The engineering plans for track expansion have already started, the track reported, and the work is expected to be completed by January 2014. Construction will not affect racing at the current Los Alamitos Quarter Horse meeting.
There is no turf course planned as part of this track expansion.
Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said his organization's original opposition to the expansion plan has lessened with the latest changes.
"They've really done a first-class job of addressing the concerns we have," Balch said. He said making the oval a full mile course rather than seven furlongs-plus, improving the turn radius, and lengthening the stretch run were all issues Los Alamitos has dealt with after listening to horsemen complaints.
Balch also said that Los Alamitos has worked out other issues as well, such as pathways to the track from barn areas, and organizing stabling to keep Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses separated. He said the lack of a turf course should not be a serious problem considering the short duration of the requested meets.
"As far as the dates issue, that's really between Santa Anita, Del Mar, Los Alamitos, and the CHRB," he added, as well as the TOC. "We're really more concerned about what 26 weeks of continuous racing at Santa Anita is going to do to that turf course."
Balch added he was encouraged that "significant progress" over stabling and training issues with the demise of Hollywood Park had been made following a meeting Sept. 12 with stakeholders and CHRB chairman David Israel and vice chairman Chuck Winner. He declined to discuss specifics, referring an inquiry about the state of those discussions to Israel, who could not be reached for comment.
Los Alamitos, meanwhile, remains bullish on its potential role on the Thoroughbred racing calendar in California.
"There is unlimited potential for daytime Thoroughbred racing in beautiful Orange County with the sport being showcased to a great, new fan base," said Los Alamitos spokesman Brad McKinzie. "This is also great for Quarter Horse racing as it will expose the breed to a whole new audience.
"It is important to note that while Los Alamitos currently races Thoroughbreds at distances of 4 1/2 furlongs or less, this new meeting will not be limited to those distances," he said. "This will be a top meet and the plan is to attract all of the top barns from around the nation with an impressive stakes schedule, top purses in allowance races, and more."