Before the start of the final day of racing at Los Alamitos Race Course's summer thoroughbred meet, a jogger in track pants ran a few laps around the track. He finished with a final trek down the immense stretch run.
At 1,380 feet, it is the longest stretch run at any North American racetrack and one of Los Alamitos' newest draws. It is also hard work for horse and human — a test of patience.
The stretch is one of a number of improvements made at Los Alamitos for its first thoroughbred meet since 1991, and it serves as a reminder: Los Alamitos, which is better known for quarter horses and has seen its stature rise as other nearby tracks have hit hard times, is hoping to enjoy a thoroughbred revival. And that will require patience.
The track's meeting was an audition of sorts. Brad McKinzie, Los Alamitos Racing Assn. vice president and general manager, called the meet "an artistic success."
McKinzie said that business-wise it was "not as big a success as we thought it might be." He said it was difficult to forecast the meeting. But that's fine with Los Alamitos for now.
More crucially, the all-dirt surface, trainers and jockeys said, is as good as any in the country. The long straightaway has drawn praise. The facilities passed muster.
"Up until today I didn't like it much because I kept getting beat," joked trainer Dan Hendricks, whose horse, Story to Tell, was a winner Sunday. Hendricks said he was impressed at how quickly the track had been renovated.
Kent Desormeaux, the Hall of Fame jockey who rode La Grange to a win in the Cinderella Stakes on Sunday, said that overall, "It's just been awesome."
The average daily handle for the meeting was about $5 million. That's not near the neighborhood of the track's nearby competitors, but there was never much of a chance it would be.
"Are we ever going to handle as much as Santa Anita and Del Mar?" McKinzie said. "No. But we're going to find our niche."
At the track Sunday, fewer racers lined the railings than at opening day on July 3. The reaction wasn't quite as loud when the horses came roaring toward the line. Wider pockets of empty seats dotted the grandstand.
But, in an encouraging sign, the day's handle was strong. That could be a sign that the big-ticket bettors, who had mostly stayed cautious about Los Alamitos until they could read its quality, have come away positive.
That could lend momentum to the track in its final two meetings of the year in September and December. McKinzie said he hopes to have California Chrome enter a race to be called the Los Alamitos Mile in September.
Art Sherman, California Chrome's trainer, has been a booster of the track. California Chrome has a stable and trains here.
Toward the end of the day on Sunday, McKinzie motioned to the far end of the straightaway, where the sun hung low over an infield pond. Just six months ago, he said, that part of the track had been a golf course.
"What we always wanted to do with this meet is to show that we could do it," McKinzie said. "And we've done that."