Pomona Harness Meet Opens on a Good Note, Then Comes Accident
Exactly what the odds are on a race track opening its inaugural season with a victory by a horse named Winning Season are unknown. You have to figure they’d be pretty long, though.
All the same, that’s exactly what the folks at Fairplex Park in Pomona accomplished Tuesday night as they got their nine-week harness meeting off to an auspicious start in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 6,793.
Winning Season, a 3-year-old bay gelding driven and trained by Rick Plano, won the first race of the first harness meeting to be held at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in two decades. It wasn’t even close. Winning Season won the mile pace by a clear 15 lengths.
The night’s only discordant note came in the ninth race when six horses in the nine-horses field were involved in a spectacular accident on the backstretch.
The mishap, caused by a horse breaking stride and slowing while in a pack, caused several sulkies to overturn. No drivers or horses were injured. Only three horses finished the race, but stewards ruled that since none had been involved in the spill, the result would stand.
Earlier, in the winner’s circle after the first race, Plano said: “Well, the horse’s name is Winning Season and I hope it’s a winning season for everybody.
“The track is in real good shape. We qualified over it today and a lot of the guys seemed to think it was OK. We’ve just got a few improvements with the hub (inside) rail, it’s got to be dropped down a little bit. Other than that, the track’s surface is great.
“I think it’s in better shape than Los Alamitos. As far as the horses themselves, they’ll stay a lot sounder on this track. It’s got a lot better cushion.”
Plano was making his first start since breaking his right arm on April 1 when he was kicked by a horse named Cracked Ice.
“I’ve got nine pins and a plate in there,” Plano said, pointing to the cast on his arm. “I had to learn to drive left-handed.
“I never expected it. I was standing behind him (Cracked Ice) talking to somebody and he just hauled off and kicked me. I flew about three stalls. It almost knocked me out.”
Plano’s return to racing proved an immediate success. It will take a little longer to determine whether the return of harness racing to Pomona will be equally successful.
Tuesday night’s crowd wagered a total of $560,772, just above the $500,000 to $550,000 average nightly handle that Jim Priddy, the director of racing, had said it would take for the track to break even.
Harness racing is enduring some lean times in Southern California at the moment. The recently concluded Los Alamitos meeting averaged only 4,325 fans a night, a drop of 17.9% over last year. The Los Alamitos average handle of $754,573 also represented an 8.5% decline.
“Part of the problem is the poor image the sport has in the public eye. That, Priddy said, is something Fairplex hopes to correct.
“I think the public’s perception of harness racing has improved vastly within the last two to three years with the advent of the Breeders’ Cup series,” he said. “Our goal here at Fairplex is to promote harness racing the best we can in the best possible light and the best image.
“I don’t think the harness industry has had in the past the image that it should have. Racing in general hasn’t had the image that it should have. If there are any problems with the public’s image of the sport, we want to dispel that.”