Los Al, polytrack key to the future of So Cal racing

Jan 3, 2006 1:18 AM

If the Sport of Kings is to remain a viable entity in Southern California’s future, it will do so for two reasons: Los Alamitos and Polytrack. Otherwise, in the opinion of concerned horsemen, racing will become the Sport of Kinks, unable to iron out its flaws.

Los Alamitos, which runs predominantly mixed breeds in the city of Cypress in Orange County, is the heir-apparent to 60-year-old Hollywood Park, a massive art-deco style track in the urban outpost of Inglewood. The 53-year-old Pegram made his millions owning more than 20 McDonald’s hamburger franchises in Washington state. He hasn’t fared badly racing horses, either. His Real Quiet came within a desperate nose of winning the Triple Crown in 1998 and his Captain Steve won the world’s richest race, the $6 million Dubai World Cup in 2001.

With the Sept. 23 sale of Hollywood Park, and its obituary at the ready, Pegram announced he would infuse $40 million to convert Los Alamitos for thoroughbred racing. Bay Meadows Land Co., which bought Hollywood from Churchill Downs, warned after the sale that the track could close in three years if alternative gaming (read slots) at tracks in California is not permitted.

Aside from negotiating a maze of legal and political issues, all Pegram and his supporters require now is approval from the California Horse Racing Board for Hollywood’s dates.

With 2006 upon us, and Hollywood projected to cease racing within three years, Pegram understands the significance of moving forward post haste, and that’s what he’s doing.

"We’re going through the city process right now," he said. "We’ve got land-use attorneys dealing with the city of Cypress and everything looks good there. We’re just setting and waiting.

"We went to the industry and asked them for their support with this. The engineering firm has the race track all laid out. Basically, now it’s just a matter of waiting for the OK from the Horse Racing Board to see if it wants to give us the dates."

How long that might take is anybody’s guess.

Asked if everything fell into place without a hitch how long it would take before thoroughbred racing at Los Al on a regular basis would become a reality, Pegram said: "Again, it comes back to when they want to give us the dates. I think we can be under construction sometime in the fall of 2006 or spring of 2007, which would mean we’d be ready (to race) in the fall of 07 or the spring of 08."

If Pegram becomes the messiah, Polytrack could become the model racing surface, one that minimizes injuries and ailments to the vulnerable yet noble thoroughbred. Polytrack is a synthetic surface currently in use at Turfway Park in Kentucky. At a CHRB meeting Dec. 1 at Hollywood Park, trainers from every strata called for immediate pursuit of Polytrack surfaces at Southern California’s major tracks—Del Mar, Hollywood and Santa Anita. One of its leading proponents is Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella.

"I’ve had a little experience with Polytrack," Mandella said. "I’ve been watching horses run on it and asking people about it who have raced on it. I’m praying that it is the savior, because racing needs a savior. There are too many horses that go by the wayside and we need to do something to keep them sounder, not just in Southern California but at all tracks.

"I’m hoping Polytrack is the savior. It’s not the end-all, cure-all, but it sounds a lot safer than anything else we’ve seen. I’m praying that it is. We need it badly. Every horseman is very serious about it."

Costs to install the surface have ranged from $5 million to $8 million. "And it would take a couple months to put a track in," Mandella said, "so it wouldn’t happen overnight."

Polytrack in Southern California, it would seem, is a matter of time. And if anybody

can produce the gold necessary to regenerate the sport at Los Alamitos, it’s Pegram.

After all, he was born in Fort Knox.

The homestretch

”¡ Bob Baffert, off to a quick start at Santa Anita, could have the Santa Anita Derby winner in Point of Impact, a massive son of 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given who was a fast-closing third in his maiden race Saturday. The chestnut broke slowly from the extreme outside post going 5 ½ furlongs and closed strongly while very wide on a sloppy track. The bad news for bettors: there will be no future value on this $800,000 colt owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis.

”¡ Pete Pedersen, a racing official for 50 years before his recent retirement, is not computer literate and therefore laments not being able to stay current on racing information. "I’m disappointed trying to keep up on racing news," the 85-year-old Pedersen said. "If you don’t have a computer and sit home and read the newspaper, you won’t know there’s racing going on. In my experience, if the major press doesn’t show much interest in racing, the public doesn’t feel it’s that significant and they focus on other sports."