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Fairplex's Racing Role Could Expand

Fairplex Park offers 16 days of competition in the fall as part of California’s fair racing circuit. But with signs pointing to the closure and development of Hollywood Park, Fairplex soon could play a more important role in the Golden State’s version of the Sport of Kings.

Jim Henwood, the president and CEO of the Los Angeles County Fair Association, which operates Fairplex, said that while his track is ready to step up and provide more racing on a limited basis, it won’t be able to fill the huge void resulting from the shutdown of Hollywood Park.

“I believe that the California industry first really needs to take a hard look at the overall calendar and the amount of racing that is going on,” Henwood said. “Let’s face it, we need to safeguard Del Mar, and we need to safeguard Santa Anita; that’s paramount. We need to make certain that our racing programs (in California) are best suited to serve those two preeminent racing organizations. What we want to be is a great partner with them.”

Henwood would like to see Fairplex Park turned into an operation that would be a cross between Keeneland and the Palm Meadows training center in Florida.

“We feel the best thing that could happen is for the industry to work with Fairplex Park in developing it as a world standard training facility,” he said.  “We would continue to offer our fair race meet here in the fall, and we would look to add another meet. Let’s call that type of racing boutique race meets. I understand Keeneland’s calendar very well, and  that would be a nice way to position it. But we’re not for putting too much racing here. Our fundamental purpose would be focused more on training, so we would be kind of a hybrid of Palm Meadows and Keeneland.

“We’ll never have enough money to step into Keeneland’s shoes,” Henwood continued, “and we’ll never have enough money to step into Palm Meadows’ shoes. But the idea would be to create a facility that wouldn’t fall to land development interests. Its value would be based on its use for Thoroughbred racing and its importance for the economy in the state of California.

“We’ve done a lot of exhaustive studies on this. It would involve expanding our racing facility to a mile track, a turf course, a training turf course, changing our barns, and improving our  grandstand -- all of that. I think we run probably the best Thoroughbred racing on a five-eighths track in America. But in order to get that (the expansion) done, our fair race meet has to be strengthened and, frankly, we would have to operate at a comparable level to Santa Anita and to Del Mar when we race. The second item is that we’re going to need other race dates (in addition to the fall fair meeting) to support it.”