A quarter horse group that races at Los Alamitos is suing Hollywood Park, which owns and operates the Orange County track, over the terms of a 28-year lease that doesn't expire until 1999.
Jim Smith, general manager of the Horsemen's Quarter Horse Racing Assn. (HQHRA), said that the lawsuit was filed by his group against Hollywood Park in the Superior Court of Orange County last Friday.
"Hollywood Park has presented plans to the City of Cypress to sell some of the Los Alamitos property for commercial development," Smith said. "Some of that property is land that we lease, such as the race-track parking lot. We see this as a threat to our continued enjoyment of benefits under the lease and we are asking the court to determine the extent of our lease and our rights that are protected by it."
Neil Papiano, chief counsel for Hollywood Park, characterized the lawsuit as "a fly on an elephant, something of minor consequence."
Papiano speculated that the suit may be a ploy by the HQHRA to renegotiate its lease.
The suit by the quarter-horse group comes at a time when financially troubled Hollywood Park has been under fire from other sectors.
Hollywood Park, whose pre-tax earnings went from a profit of $1.2 million in 1983 to a deficit of $4.5 million last year, was recently criticized by Len Foote, secretary of the California Horse Racing Board, for operational practices during the current harness racing season at Los Alamitos.
Ron Beckman, president of a group that represents the harness owners and trainers, said Wednesday that a suit by his horsemen against Hollywood is imminent. And toward the end of Hollywood's summer thoroughbred season, a meeting marked by substantial decreases in attendance and betting, there was a disagreement between the track and the horsemen over the amount of purses being paid.
Hollywood Park, which spent close to $90 million on the purchase of Los Alamitos in 1984 and the construction of a six-story pavilion at the Inglewood track, sold 48 acres of the 300-acres Los Alamitos site last year and has indicated that it will sell more.
The HQHRA conducts approximately 20 weeks of racing a year in California, at Bay Meadows near San Francisco and at Los Alamitos. This year's Los Alamitos dates are Oct. 17 through Dec. 20.
Smith said that Hollywood Park has submitted plans to Cypress that call for the commercial development of most of the property that faces Katella Avenue, the major thoroughfare that runs by the track.
Papiano said that the Los Alamitos parking lot would be land covered by the lease as being used for racing. "The HQHRA feels that we're going to eliminate the blacktop," Papiano said. "That's not true. When we are finished, there will be more room for parking than there was before."