Courtesy Fairplex Park

Fairplex Plans to Phase Out Sales, Training

Changes expected at Los Angeles County Fair facility following Los Alamitos deal.

Over the next several months, the Los Angeles County Fair plans to phase out its racing-related activities at Fairplex Park, chief executive officer James Henwood told the California Horse Racing Board April 25.

Meeting at Golden Gate Fields, CHRB commissioners had the opportunity to question Henwood and Brad McKinzie, Los Alamitos Racing Association vice president, on the proposed relocation of the 11-day LACF meeting to the Orange County facility Sept. 5-21.

The discussion was for informational purposes, coming four days after the announcement of the proposed move was made. Action on the date transfer is likely to occur May 22, once a formal application has been submitted for the board's regular monthly meeting at Santa Anita Park.

None of the six commissioners present spoke against the proposalin fact, some indicated they favored it. But they did ask several probing questions during the two-hour session.

In response, Henwood said Fairplex "is not up the level of major league racing" patrons in Southern California expect. Los Alamitos, which has expanded its bull ring track to nearly a mile and expanded the stabling area, is a more suitable location, he said.

Los Alamitos, which is in Cypress on the northern edge of Orange County bordering Los Angeles County, is about 35 miles from Fairplex, which has hosted a live Thoroughbred meet since 1933.

"With three weeks of racing and the steady decline in business over the past several years, we cannot afford to make the capital improvements necessary" to make the aging Fairplex facility successful, Henwood said.

He stressed that LACF is not selling the dates in question, simply moving them. "We have to put racing where it needs to be in order for it to grow," he added.

Barretts Sales, the major equine auction enterprise in the state that operates at Fairplex, would be moving to Del Mar under the direction of the 22nd Agricultural District beginning in 2015 "if we are able to do a transaction," Henwood said. Barretts would remain in Pomona for the October yearling sale this year, however.

Fairplex, if the date transfer is approved, would also curtail stabling and training as of July 10, Henwood said.

Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, had lobbied successfully to keep Fairplex as a stabling site as the California racing industry was working out its post-Hollywood Park plans. He noted that the closure would hit trainers at a time when 2-year-olds are in need of training space, and complained that the CTT was not included in the Fairplex/Los Alamitos discussion.

"It points to a woeful lack of overall planning," Balch said. "If the population of 2-year-olds is what it has been in recent years, we may have a serious problem. And if it isn't the same, that's a serious problem, too. "The whole stabling and vanning plan was based on the premise that Fairplex would be open during the run of their meet."

Commissioner Madeline Auerbach, while saying she thought the date transfer was a good move, agreed with Balch that Fairplex's stabling decision could hit horsemen hard if it creates an inadequate number of available stalls.

"If I were certain trainers, I'd very upset right now," she told Henwood.

Commissioner Steve Beneto said he was concerned that by moving away from Fairplex, which attracts about 1.5 million visitors during the run of its fair, would hurt attendance.

McKinzie said Los Alamitos would conduct the meet but that it remains part of the LACF. He said Los Alamitos would bear the operational cost, then LACF would receive its share of the profit. He declined to specify what percentage that would be. Whatever is left, he said, would go to Los Alamitos.

The nighttime Quarter Horse track, McKinzie noted, has made a substantial investment in Thoroughbred racing after earlier being allocated five weeks of live racingtwo weeks in July and three more in December.

McKinzie said he believed that Los Alamitos would generate better on-track attendance and handle than LACF. "This is a partnership. If we're successful, then they (Fairplex) will be successful.

"We think this move will strengthen the Southern California racing calendar," he added. "We're very excited about the prospects."