By Jack Shinar BloodHorse.com
Los Alamitos Race Course officials were planning to meet Feb. 1 with the city of Cypress, Calif., to begin discussing expansion of the Orange County facility to accommodate Thoroughbred racing and training.
The Quarter Horse track, if it can get approval from the city and the backing of the state's racing industry, is presenting itself as an alternative site once Betfair Hollywood Park is shuttered. The plan calls for expanding the current circumference of the Los Alamitos track from five-eighths of a mile to seven-eighths and 190 feet, construction of an additional 700 horse stalls, and improvements to certain sections of the grandstand.
Los Alamitos became the focus of expansion plans with a recent decision by Fairplex Park in Los Angeles County to withdraw from consideration as a potential alternative to Hollywood, which is uncertain to continue racing after 2013.
"We may not be the prettiest girl around, but we may be the only one," joked Brad McKinzie, longtime consultant and executive for Los Alamitos.
McKinzie said the project would cost $12 million and would be funded privately. He said the new stalls at the plant would be in addition to 300 that already exist for limited low-level Thoroughbred racing that is currently being conducted there, as well as 1,100 more that are reserved for Quarter Horses.
He said Los Alamitos and the city of Cypress have a strong relationship and he was confident that it would approve a feasibility study for the expansion plan. McKinzie noted that sales tax on feed and grain alone with 2,100 horses on the grounds would amount to $15 million annually. He said the expansion could be completed in time for racing in 2014.
Talks between horsemen, Los Alamitos, and Fairplex have been ongoing for several months as the racing industry in the state recognizes that Hollywood will be demolished and turned into a large-scale commercial and retail development by property owner Bay Meadows Land Co. Prominent horseman Mike Pegram, who as chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners of California has played a major role in the negotiations, said recently that he doesn't expect the 75-year-old Inglewood track to continue racing after 2013.
Pegram said he hopes to have a proposal to bring before the California Horse Racing Board at its meeting Feb. 21 at Santa Anita Park.
McKinzie said that Dr. Ed Allred, owner of Los Alamitos, "as of today is very much in favor" of proceeding with plans. The track operates a year-round night-time Quarter Horse meet and officials see the addition of Thoroughbred racing and training as quite compatible.
"The prospect of opening up live Thoroughbred racing to the Orange County public is very exciting," McKinzie said.
Discussions have centered on holding a pair of brief meets during the year, one in early summer and one in the fall. The bulk of Hollywood's dates—were it to close—would likely fall to Santa Anita Park, though the CHRB would ultimately make that decision.
Los Alamitos has a grandstand capacity of 15,000.
The plan has two important factors in its favor: affordability and exposure to a new audience, McKinzie said.
McKinzie said he understands that horsemen will think that a move to Los Alamitos would result in a steep decline in purse levels, but he believes they are mistaken. He predicted that simulcast wagering would remain comparable to Hollywood's totals and that the track, with a different fan base, could exceed Hollywood's current daily on-track handle.