CYPRESS, Calif. (Sept. 28, 2017) — The California Horse Racing Board approved racing dates for the 2018 Southern California Thoroughbred circuit similar to this year at its monthly meeting on Thursday, but did not take action on the Northern California circuit after a disquieting 90-minute discussion about the state of the county fair circuit.
Specific racing dates for Del Mar, Los Alamitos and Santa Anita on the Southern California circuit will be announced at the racing board’s next meeting, on Oct. 26 at Santa Anita. Racing board officials announced that Northern California racing dates will be awarded at that meeting.
During the lengthy discussion on Thursday regarding Northern California dates, several speakers from Golden Gate Fields, county fairs, and horsemen’s organizations argued for a variety of positions, ranging from more racing dates at Golden Gate Fields during the summer, giving certain fairs more dates during specific weeks from July to early September, and a decline in handle at county fair meetings.
Golden Gate Fields holds a majority of racing dates on the circuit, racing from late August to early June, with a brief break in September. Currently, county fairs at Pleasanton, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Ferndale, and Fresno hold meetings from mid-June to mid-October. Pleasanton holds a meeting on behalf of Alameda County, where it is based, and San Joaquin County, which no longer holds racing in Stockton.
Alan Balch, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers association, urged the board to “maximize” racing weeks at Golden Gate Fields and Santa Rosa, the two tracks in the north with turf courses.
Greg Avioli of the Thoroughbred Owners of California said the fair circuit has been plagued by a growing purse overpayment in recent years caused by the expiration of a statutory supplemental purse fund. Compounding problems is the rising cost of off-track stabling at Golden Gate Fields while summertime county fair meetings are in operation.
“It no longer works economically,” Avioli said of the northern fair circuit.
As a potential solution, commissioner Jesse Choper called for county fair executives to ask their respective board of directors to appeal to the state legislature for financial assistance.
“Have the fairs get a greater subsidy from the legislature,” he said. “I have no idea if it’s possible. It helps a lot when you have a significant influence. Greater appropriations in Sacramento would go a long way to make things better for the fairs.”
The racing dates committee, led by racing board chairman Chuck Winner, is scheduled to meet in late October in advance of the full racing board’s meeting to discuss racing dates.
Winner urged the parties involved to reach a compromise before the October meeting, a position echoed by other racing board officials.
“I wish they would work together,” said racing board vice chair Madeline Auerbach.
◗ The racing board approved rules requiring that all horses be identified through microchips in order to race in the state. The rules must be approved by the state’s office of administrative law and could go into effect in 2019.
Officials said a lead time of about a year will be required to microchip all active horses and put technology in place to identify horses.
◗ Handle at all California racetracks grew by 8.3 percent in August compared to August 2016, reducing year-to-date declines to 1.3 percent, according to a report from racing board executive director Rick Baedeker.
In August, handle at Del Mar, Golden Gate Fields, county fairs in Ferndale and Santa Rosa, and the nighttime Quarter Horse and lower-level Thoroughbred meeting at Los Alamitos reached $308.4 million compared to $284.6 million in 2016.
For the year, handle at all venues was $2.02 billion compared with $2.05 billion for the first eight months of 2016.