Ready or not, harness racing will make its debut in Pomona tonight when the Los Angeles County Fair and Exposition Complex opens its inaugural trotting and pacing season at Fairplex Park.
Judging by the amount of activity at the track Monday morning, it will be touch and go whether all will be ready. Workmen of all kinds were scrambling to complete the renovations that track spokesmen said would be finished by tonight’s 7 p.m. opening ceremonies.
Whether or not they are completed in time, the improvements made to the grandstand, the clubhouse and the track itself figure to surprise those who have not been to the park recently. The facelift, which includes new sound and lighting systems, appears to be a sincere effort to attract fans and provide some semblance of a modern, efficient racing facility and atmosphere.
That may not necessarily translate into fans--the track’s own predictions of tonight’s attendance range from 3,000 to 14,000--but at least the effort is being made.
“There is no reason that California has to take a back seat in harness racing,” Gary Buxton, the track’s racing secretary said. “The Eastern tracks have been able to attract the best horses and there’s no reason California can’t come to the front, too. I think it will.”
The 46-day meeting, an experiment of sorts since harness racing has struggled for the last decade or so in Southern California, will last until June 21. Whether any top horsemen or horses will be lured from the Meadowlands in New Jersey and other Eastern tracks remains to be seen.
“I think they’ll take a wait-and-see attitude and see how we do,” one Fairplex spokesman said.
The main event of the meeting, the Budweiser series for pacers, will be run in four legs, each with a purse of $12,500, with the top money winners advancing to a $50,000 final on closing night.
Other leading events for pacers:
--The Mt. Baldy series for colts and geldings, run in three legs, each with a $7,000 purse. The final June 21 will have a $20,000 purse.
--The Golden West series for fillies and mares, using the same race and purse structure as the Mt. Baldy but with a June 20 final.
--The Citrus series for California-bred colts and geldings, run in three legs, each with a $5,000 purse, and a $10,000-added final June 17.
--The Vineyard series for California-bred fillies and mares, using the same race and purse structure as the Citrus but with a June 18 final.
In addition, the Pomona Pace will be run May 24, the Los Angeles Cup for fillies and mares and the Greyhound Trot both will go off June 13, and the Palomares Cup for pacers is set for June 14. Each of those races will have a $20,000 purse.
Tonight’s 10-race program will be highlighted by the $5,000 first leg of the Citrus series. Among the favorites are the Frank Nevarez-owned Tequilero, seeking his fourth straight win, Social Demon and Best of Arnie.