Fairplex Strikes Deal to Move Meet to Santa Anita

by Jack Shinar

Fairplex Park and the Los Angeles Turf Club have reached an agreement to move the county fair's annual 17-day end-of-summer meet to Santa Anita Park beginning this September, and have requested a change of venue from the California Horse Racing Board to be heard at its June 6 meeting.

CHRB spokesman Mike Marten said the request came from James Henwood, president and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles County Fair Association, and the Los Angles Turf Club, which is owned by Magna Entertainment. A change of venue needs approval before the CHRB could issue a license to operate the meet, which runs Sept. 13-29. The June 6 CHRB meeting is at Bay Meadows.

"It is a bittersweet announcement," Henwood said. "We are excited about this agreement to run the L.A. County Fair race meet at such a spectacular facility as Santa Anita, but will also miss the excitement and pageantry that racing has brought to the fairgrounds for 63 years."

The decision follows years of declining on-track attendance and comes at the urging of California racing officials who said the fair could attract horses prepping for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships if it relocated. The Breeders' Cup is run about six weeks after the Fairplex meet, but the fairgrounds only has a five-eighths mile dirt course and efforts to expand the track have been unsuccessful.

"Joining an operation like Santa Anita will enable Fairplex to better meet the needs of the racing industry and the customers we serve," Henwood said. "It is our belief that this move will enhance the revenues of the horsemen and increase the entries at our meet."

Jack Liebau, Magna Entertainment's director of California racing, said he was thrilled with the agreement.

Fair communications director Wendy Talarico refused to comment on any plans the county fair may be considering for its racing and training facility, where 400 to 500 horses are boarded year-round.

In the past, fair officials have denied that there are plans to seek an alternate use for its racetrack and grandstand, which includes a major simulcasting center. Santa Anita, located in Arcadia, is about 25 miles northwest of Fairplex, which is in Pomona.

Fairplex officials have been exploring the possibility of running their meet at another track in a landlord-tenant arrangement since late last year. They also held discussions with Churchill Downs Inc.-owned Hollywood Park.

If approved, the move would give Santa Anita a three-week lead-in to the regular fall meet operated there by the Oak Tree Racing Association. That sesssion begins Oct. 2.