The state’s struggling harness racing industry apparently scored an important victory Friday when the California Horse Racing Board, by a 4-2 vote, approved a 1991 meeting at Fairplex Park in Pomona.
Board member William Lansdale, having seen his motion for a 1991 harness season at Fairplex Park in Pomona die for lack of a second, left the meeting temporarily.
While Lansdale was gone, another commissioner, Paul Deats, said he had second thoughts about the motion. When Lansdale returned about five minutes later, he was asked to resubmit the motion, and this time it carried by a 4-2 vote, with Henry Chavez, the board chairman, and Leslie Liscom also in support. Phoebe Cooke and Rosemary Ferraro were opposed.
Lloyd Arnold, one of the owners of Los Alamitos Race Course, had asked for the night racing dates at Fairplex, later saying he would not run a harness meet at Los Alamitos if he didn’t get them. The thoroughbred industry, led by Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, opposed the Fairplex dates, which will overlap night quarter horse racing at Los Alamitos and day thoroughbred meetings at Hollywood Park and Del Mar.
The harness season at Fairplex will open April 26 and run through Aug. 17. The board also approved a Fairplex night quarter horse season that will run from Oct. 4 through Nov. 30. During this period, Oak Tree will conduct a thoroughbred season at Santa Anita in the daytime and there will be quarter horse racing at Los Alamitos at night.
The Fairplex harness dates mean the end of racing at the California Expo in Sacramento, where Arnold and his partner, Chris Bardis, used to run meets. Rodney Blonien, an attorney representing Arnold, said that Sacramento harness racing had been profitable only once in 17 years, and that Arnold lost about $400,000 the last time he held a meeting there.
The Fairplex harness dates are contingent on Arnold reaching a lease agreement with the Los Angeles County Fair Assn.
“I’ll have to go back to my board with this one-year thing,” said Ralph Hinds, president of the fair association. “I said during the (racing board) meeting that a one-year trial wouldn’t suit us, and I meant that. We were looking for something that would cover the long run. What the (racing) board has given us is only a short-term situation.”
With Fairplex running a harness season, the training facilities for about 700 thoroughbreds would no longer be available at the Pomona track. Santa Anita would presumably absorb many of those horses.
Before the vote on the Fairplex dates, Cliff Goodrich, president of Santa Anita, and Don Robbins, general manager of Hollywood Park, bristled as they exchanged comments with Blonien.
“Three years ago, Bardis said he couldn’t live without the Cal Expo, and now he’s saying he can’t live with it,” Robbins said.
Blonien suggested that Santa Anita and Hollywood Park once threatened to pull their television signal out of Del Mar, which would have prevented the track near San Diego from taking bets on their races, if Del Mar permitted harness racing.
Goodrich said he was opposed only to daytime harness racing at Del Mar. “Hollywood Park never made a threat to Del Mar,” Robbins said. “The last honest man over there (Blonien) has misspoken.”
“Will you eat the letter?” Blonien shouted to Robbins, who was standing on the other side of the theater-sized room.
An exasperated Lansdale said: “Don’t bother me with the details of 1987. I don’t care. What we’re concerned with is what’s happening today. These harness dates are the toughest issue I’ve had to face in my five years on the board.”
Horse Racing Notes
The flipping and flopping on jockey Pat Valenzuela continued Friday when the racing board sent the case back to the stewards at Hollywood Park. On Nov. 15, the stewards suspended Valenzuela indefinitely and sent the case to the board after the jockey, who has a history of drug problems, had called in sick on Nov. 3. “We have not received all of the physical and psychological evaluations on Valenzuela,” board Chairman Henry Chavez said. “When the stewards get those evaluations, they will have to review them and make an assessment.”
Chris Bardis owns 4.9% of the stock in Hollywood Park, has a much smaller percentage of stock in Santa Anita and is one of Lloyd Arnold’s partners in Los Alamitos. These multiple holdings were questioned by officials of both Hollywood Park and Santa Anita, and the board said it would investigate Bardis’ connections. “Bardis is an owner of Los Alamitos, and if he wants to buy another track, he can’t do it,” said Bob Forgnone, an attorney representing Hollywood Park. Cliff Goodrich, president of Santa Anita, said: “I am disturbed. Aren’t we entitled to know Bardis’ intentions and then decide if they’re good for racing?” Bardis is considered to be an opponent of Marje Everett, Hollywood Park’s chief executive officer, whose position is being challenged by some shareholders.