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by Steve Andersen of

Big changes coming to Southern California racing calendar in 2020 - HORSE RACING, DEL MAR, Calif. – The California Horse Racing Board on Thursday approved a radically different racing calendar than in recent years for the Southern California Thoroughbred circuit in 2020.

The 2020 schedule calls for additional dates for Santa Anita; fewer dates for Los Alamitos; an additional weekend of racing at Del Mar during summer; and 13-day stretches in summer and winter with no racing.

The calendar – proposed by executives from Del Mar, Santa Anita, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California – reduces the number of racing weeks at Los Alamitos from eight in recent years to four in 2020. The board allocated dates in September to Santa Anita that previously were run at Los Alamitos as the Los Angeles County Fair meeting.

The board tentatively allocated Los Alamitos two weeks of racing in late June and early July, and two weeks in early December. Approval for those dates could come at the board’s September meeting.

Most of the calendar for the Southern California Thoroughbred circuit was approved without the board’s customary public dates committee hearing. Officials from Los Alamitos and the California Thoroughbred Trainers called for a postponement on the allotment of dates until September. The request was rejected.

The 2020 calendar will have gaps of 13 days in July and December, and some weeks with fewer racing days during the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting. The breaks in the calendar stem from concern expressed by racing officials about the number of available horses on the circuit.

“We have fewer horses and it’s for the health of everybody that we allow time between meetings,” said racing board vice-chair Madeline Auerbach, who heads the dates committee.

Earlier this month, Greg Avioli, the president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said there were approximately 2,700 Thoroughbreds in training in Southern California, down 650 from the summer of 2018.

“We don’t believe it’s in the best interest of the sport to race every week of the year,” Avioli told the racing board.

Santa Anita will race from Dec. 26 to June 21, but must eliminate 12 days of racing from this past season’s schedule during that span.

Tim Ritvo, the chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, the track’s parent company, said in an interview on Thursday that race days could be eliminated when the horse population is low, such as early spring.

“The big thing is to have less racing for the population we have, and do it smartly,” Ritvo said. “Preparation of horses is not easy. The last thing you want to do is have late cancellations.”

Santa Anita canceled 23 days of racing earlier this year after a series of equine fatalities in late February and early March led to a three-week gap in racing for a renovation and inspection of the main track in March. After a wetter-than-usual winter, the track canceled nine days of racing on Thursdays from mid-April to late June because of a decline in available runners in Southern California.

The most significant changes in the 2020 calendar will occur from late June through the end of the year.

The Los Angeles County Fair meeting, which for decades has followed Del Mar in September, will be held at Los Alamitos in two stretches, according to the calendar – one week in late June and two weeks in December. Los Alamitos will operate the first week of July on its own.

This year, Los Alamitos is hosting three meetings – a summer meeting for three weeks in late June and early July; three weeks for the Los Angeles County Fair from Sept. 6 to 22; and two weeks in December. The summer meeting ended on July 14 followed three days later by the start of the Del Mar summer meeting. A similar schedule has been in place since 2014.

In 2020, Los Alamitos is scheduled to end on July 5, but Del Mar will not start until Saturday, July 18. Del Mar has not opened on a Saturday since its inaugural year in 1937.

Baedeker said that the gap between the end of the Los Alamitos summer meeting and the start of Del Mar will help Del Mar’s business.

“It’s designed to create a healthy population for statistically the most important meeting of the year,” Baedeker said.

In 2020, Del Mar’s summer meeting will operate for eight weekends, through Labor Day, Sept. 7, and will have five-day racing weeks except for one four-day week at the end of August.

Santa Anita’s autumn meeting will begin on Friday, Sept. 11, and continue through Oct. 25, with three-day racing weeks in September and a schedule consisting primarily of four-day weeks in October. In recent years, Santa Anita’s autumn meeting has started on the final Friday of September.

Del Mar will run a 15-day autumn meeting from Oct. 31 to Nov. 29 in 2020, with racing primarily on a three-day-per-week basis. The schedule calls for Los Alamitos to race for two weeks from Dec. 3-13 before the circuit takes a 13-day break leading to the start of the 2020-21 Santa Anita winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26.

Los Alamitos chairman Ed Allred told the racing board that gaps in the Thoroughbred calendar would disrupt the track’s evening meeting of Quarter Horses and lower-level Thoroughbreds, which benefits from a built-in simulcast audience that watched daytime races. Allred said simulcast locations around the state may not open specifically to accommodate the Los Alamitos evening meeting.

In an interview, Allred said Los Alamitos would consider shifting the start of its Quarter Horse cards to late afternoon.

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