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Toasting with Andrew Champagne

Was Los Alamito's Meet a Success?

 

How will we remember the first-ever daytime thoroughbred meet in the history of Los Alamitos?

Eight days of racing gave us plenty of highlights from a track looking to establish itself in Southern California. Best known as the home of 3-year-old sensation California Chrome prior to this summer, Los Al set out to host an exciting meet, and it lived up to that promise.

While some expansions are still in progress, the intimate setting at Los Al is actually a positive. Crowds seem larger, the excitement is palpable, and fans in the grandstand are right on top of the action. There could be more TV’s on the premises, and there are a couple of minor things that could be better, but with time and the appropriate investments, those are easy fixes.

As far as racing was concerned, Los Al got plenty of star power. Of note, Shared Belief, one of the best 3-year-olds in the country, romped in the inaugural Los Alamitos Derby, and Story to Tell (below) stamped himself as a 2-year-old to watch with an impressive win in the Willard Proctor.
 
 

Some concerns about the placement of Los Al’s meet (bridging Santa Anita and Del Mar) were founded, and plenty of races went off with small fields as some barns saved their bullets for where the turf meets the surf. Still, the quality of the horses that ran in Cypress was not a huge departure from what one would see at other A-level tracks in the Golden State.

The meet also saw the emergence of apprentice jockey Drayden Van Dyke. He’s been riding in Southern California for less than a year, but he led the Los Al jockey colony in victories. That colony included reigning Santa Anita champion Joe Talamo, as well as several other stalwarts from the Great Race Place and Del Mar.

Meanwhile, Peter Miller continued his hot streak by capturing the Los Al training title. He recorded three winners in just 10 tries, with one second and one third. Close behind Miller was a group of 15 trainers with two wins apiece, a faction that included Hall of Famers Jerry Hollendorfer and Bob Baffert.


Los Alamitos has acquired the September dates formerly held by Barretts Racing, and rumor has it the track will look to host California Chrome’s Breeders Cup prep race later this year. That would be a huge coup for Los Al, a track that is already on its way to being seen as a relative equal to its Southern California peers.

There is still some work to be done, but Los Alamitos couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. The races were exciting, the equine talent was there, and horsemen seemed to throw their support behind the venue. Time will tell if Los Al can ever be seen in the same light as Santa Anita and Del Mar, but while Rome wasn’t built in a day, it sure seems that the home of Ed Burgart, the longest stretch in North America, and night-time quarter horse racing will have every chance to be a major player in the thoroughbred scene going forward.

 

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Meet Andrew Champagne

 

A native of upstate New York and a graduate of Ithaca College, Andrew Champagne fell in love with horse racing at a very early age on summer trips to Saratoga. His turf writing credits include time spent as a sportswriter, weekly columnist, and handicapper at The Saratogian, a summer working for The Saratoga Special, and "field research" at OTB facilities in Saratoga Springs and his hometown of Kingston. He also spent two years in the athletic communications office at Siena College, and interned with NBC Olympics at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.


Andrew moved to Pasadena, Calif., in October of 2013, and now serves as an Associate Producer in HRTV's Digital Media department and Horse Racing Nation's Southern California writer. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewChampagne, and email him at andrewdchampagne@gmail.com.