The most valuable member of the public relations office at
Los Alamitos doesn’t sit behind a desk. He doesn’t have an Employee of the
Month parking space, a plaque on the wall, or a boss clad in a suit and tie to
Instead, California Chrome has done all his work on
racetracks from coast to coast. The Cal-bred That Could won three consecutive
million-dollar races in April and May, and took the sport of horse racing on a
wild ride that culminated in early-June at Belmont Park.
California Chrome’s Triple Crown run is over, and for the 12th
time since 1978, horse racing was denied an equine immortal on a late-spring
afternoon in Elmont, New York. While that story has ended, though, another, the
one where a quarter-horse track in Southern California replaces one of the most
storied venues in racing, is just beginning.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way for Betfair Hollywood
Park. Once a playground for the rich and famous, the track next to The Great Western
Forum hosted Breeders’ Cup events and served as an exhibition of some of
racing’s all-time greats. Citation became the sport’s first equine millionaire
there. Seabiscuit won the first-ever Hollywood Gold Cup by bounding through its
stretch. Affirmed, Round Table, and Swaps amazed fans there, as did recent
stars such as Lava Man and Game On Dude.
None of that mattered, though, when higher-ups decided to
close the track in May of 2013. The land was too valuable to leave undeveloped,
and after Betfair Hollywood Park’s final race in December, the gates were shut
once and for all.
A restructured racing calendar was finalized. As expected,
Santa Anita and Del Mar, longtime stalwarts of Southern California racing,
picked up dates. What may have opened some eyes, though, was the announcement
that Los Alamitos would host thoroughbred-only meets in July and December.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Los Alamitos marketing and
publicity director Orlando Gutierrez said. “We have great support from the
industry, and there was never any doubt we could have a successful meet.”
A 21-year employee of Los Alamitos, Gutierrez has long
played a substantial role in the operations of one of the top quarter horse
venues in America. The upcoming July meet, though, brings an array of new
challenges, ones that prompted several sweeping changes to the track and its surrounding
The track itself, which was once a five-furlong oval, is now
one mile in circumference, with a homestretch measuring 1,380 feet (making it
the longest in the country). Additionally, hundreds of new stalls are being
built, as is a new winner’s circle, and The Vessels Club, Los Al’s upscale
restaurant, has been reconfigured to allow for more patio seating.
One concern some observers had was a possible conflict
between thoroughbred trainers and quarter horse trainers, especially given the
relatively small barn area at Los Alamitos. However, Gutierrez says members of
both communities have worked together in spectacular fashion.
“One trainer said, ‘Hey, we’re all horsemen, we’re all out
here for the horse,’” he added. “The way everybody’s been getting along has
A sign outside Los Alamitos on Katella Avenue welcomes
race-goers to the home of Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome. Like seemingly
everything else about California Chrome, his home track is blue-collar,
surrounded by a Costco on one side and a church on the other.
Inside, the winner of both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness
Stakes resides in his stall, located in the barn area next to the far turn. He
stomps around, he nips at passers-by, and he certainly doesn’t seem like a
horse disappointed by the result of the Belmont Stakes or his troubled start in
“He’s doing great,” assistant trainer Alan Sherman said.
“His foot’s starting to heal up really nice.”
California Chrome became Los Alamitos’s horse after romping
in both the Cal Cup Derby and San Felipe Stakes. A large Los Alamitos
contingent was on hand as the son of Lucky Pulpit romped in the Santa Anita
Derby, and fans and horsemen alike lined the Los Al rail when he stretched his
legs one final time before the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s been awesome,” Sherman said of the support California
Chrome has received. “Los Al’s been great. They’ve really treated all the thoroughbred
trainers that have come here great, and it’s been a lot of fun for everybody.”
“We had 500 people here watching his workout,” Gutierrez
added. “The whole rail was just packed with people.”
Gutierrez’s face lights up when asked about California
Chrome and the work he has done for his home track. He hasn’t expanded the
stretch, added new stalls, or renovated the grandstand, but Gutierrez is quick
to say that the horse’s accomplishments have been immeasurable in bolstering
Los Alamitos’s reputation.
“The amount of
publicity that he provided us, we couldn’t pay for that publicity,” he said.
“It gave us a lot of credibility planning for our first full-fledged daytime
thoroughbred meet. We knew we had to establish ourselves as a world-class
track, and to have the horse that won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness come
from here, it definitely came at the perfect time.
“It’s been a lot of fun. He’s just a fun horse to be
The first-ever all-thoroughbred meet at Los Alamitos begins
July 3. Naturally, California Chrome will play a role, as fans will receive
commemorative t-shirts with paid admission.
The highlight of the meet figures to come on July 5, when
the $500,000 Los Alamitos Derby is run. Formerly the Swaps Stakes, the race may
attract a field including Eclipse Award winner Shared Belief, Robert B. Lewis
hero Candy Boy, and several runners from the Triple Crown trail.
However, the horse that played such a role in bolstering Los
Al’s reputation will not compete at its biggest meet ever. California Chrome is
leaving Orange County this week, and will spend 30 days away from the track.
“We’re just going to let him be a horse for 30 days,”
Sherman said. “We’ll let him go out in the pasture and just be a horse for a
“The main goal is the Breeders’ Cup. We’ll probably run him
one time before that, in the Awesome Again. If all goes well, that’s the plan.”
Despite the lack of the horse who put Los Al on the
thoroughbred racing map, though, both Sherman and Gutierrez are very confident
that the upcoming meet will be a successful one.
“It’s going to be a nice change,” Sherman said. “I think
they’re going to do great, and hopefully they eventually get more dates.”
“We’re going to have a great meet,” Gutierrez reiterated.
“We’re very excited.”