When Hollywood Park closed forever last year, it set up a scenario in Southern California racing in which “a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.”
Del Mar and Santa Anita Park figured to have their tradition, power and resources to absorb most of Hollywood’s race dates. But the third and possibly weakest link is Los Alamitos. The Orange County track has not hosted a thoroughbred meet since 1991.
There are good reasons to believe that Los Alamitos will hold up its end of the chain.
It starts with track owner Edward Allred, who spent $5 million in improvements. The most important change was expanding the track surface to a one-mile oval.
Because of space limitations, the expanded oval has sharp turns and a 1,380-foot stretch run. That final straightaway is the longest in the country. Longer than Churchill Downs. Longer than Belmont Park.
It didn’t hurt that trainer Art Sherman and his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, California Chrome, were stabled at Los Alamitos. It answered any questions early on whether the track was a good place to train.
On Saturday, the $500,000 Los Alamitos Derby, formerly the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park, will showcase another star 3-year-old in Shared Belief. It’s one more seal of approval to host last year’s Eclipse Award champion.
In fact, Allred was so excited about racing that he negotiated a deal to take over the Fairplex Park dates, creating a third short race meet in Orange County.
Even if local fans take to the new Los Alamitos meets, the most important test will be in the national simulcast market. Most handle nowadays is bet off-track. Los Alamitos does not have the cachet of Del Mar and Santa Anita, but it is trying to build one.
■ BREEDERS’ CUP BETTING CHALLENGE — The South Point returns to the handicapping tournament business July 19 with the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. It will serve as a qualifier for the Betting Challenge at Santa Anita on the weekend of the Breeders’ Cup.
The buy-in is $1,500 — $500 for the entry fee and $1,000 live bankroll. In the live-money format, players keep whatever they win, so it is possible for every contestant to show a profit.
The rules are simple. A contestant bets $100 per race on 10 races of his choice at designated tracks, using any combination of win, place and exacta betting.
First prize is a fully paid seat, worth $10,000, to the Betting Challenge at Santa Anita, plus 40 percent of entry fees.
■ FLORIDA AGREEMENT — Sanity finally prevailed in South Florida, where Gulfstream Park and Calder reached a deal to end their head-to-head competition. Gulfstream now will race year-round except for October and November, which will belong to Calder.
But Gulfstream will operate the Calder race meet.
It is painfully apparent that Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Calder, wants to reduce its financial stake in the horse racing business. CDI is focused on casinos, Twinspires.com and maintaining the Kentucky Derby and Oaks.
Everything else seems to lack a sense of long-term commitment to the industry. CDI was heavily criticized for its thumb-twiddling performance at the Fair Grounds meet last winter.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.