POMONA, Calif. – As the California racing landscape nears its 2014 redesign, at least one traditional landmark remains – the Ferris wheel towering high above the five-eighth-mile track that is home to the 2013 Los Angeles County Fair.
Friday is opening day of a 13-day meet renamed the Barretts Race Meet at Fairplex, with a revised past-performance track abbreviation – BSR – which stands for Barretts Sales and Racing. By any name – some still refer to Fairplex Park as “Pomona” – the carnival atmosphere stays.
So does the Ferris wheel. The attraction is not normally a handicapping factor, but trainer Craig Lewis recognizes it might affect his filly Warren’s Veneda. To upset Ondine in the $50,000 Beverly J. Lewis Stakes on Friday, Warren’s Veneda must stay focused.
“She’s a high-strung filly,” Lewis said. “I am more concerned about the distractions than anything else, keeping her settled down when she sees the Ferris wheel and everything else going on.”
There is plenty going on the next 2 1/2 weeks at the fair.
The meet begins with the Lewis for 3-year-old filly sprinters, includes $100,000 stakes for 2-year-old Barretts sales graduates Sept. 14 and 15, and ends with the $100,000 Ralph M. Hinds Pomona Handicap on closing day, Sept. 22.
Sandwiched between the end of Del Mar and the start of Santa Anita autumn, Barretts Sales and Racing is sport and gambling mainly for the fun of it. Expectations are high for 2013, based on a successful 2012 when all-sources handle was up 8 percent, to $5.2 million daily.
“We put a good racing program up; quality was better than what we have seen in years past,” fair vice president Mike Seder said. “I think we will see more entries this year. We anticipate handle growth of 5 or 6 percent.”
Early indications are encouraging. Racing secretary Tom Knust expects 700 horses will be stabled on the grounds, up from 500 one year ago.
“I think we will see a significant increase in the number of starters,” Knust said.
Average field size one year ago was 7.46.
The track surface at Fairplex is dirt. After months of racing and training on Cushion Track and Polytrack, horses and horsemen look forward to a return to conventional footing with a reputation for keeping horses sound.
“I love the surface here,” trainer Jeff Mullins said. “It’s probably the best surface we have in California. Horses get better here. If you bring horses here with little issues, by the time you leave here, they are well.”
Due to its well-liked surface and location 20 miles east of Santa Anita, Fairplex continues to be discussed as a potential off-site stabling venue. This issue will become more important in 2014 when Betfair Hollywood Park closes permanently.
“We are here, we are available,” Seder said regarding Fairplex.
The 2014 funding for off-site stabling already has been allocated to San Luis Rey Downs and Los Alamitos. Fairplex will close for training just days after the meet ends. Plans for expanding the track to one mile and adding a turf course received only limited support, and remain on hold.
Meanwhile, 2013 is full steam ahead for Barretts Race Meet at Fairplex.
Jockeys Martin Pedroza and Edwin Maldonado are expected to battle for the meet title. Pedroza led the standings 13 consecutive years (1999-2011) before Maldonado upset him in 2012. Maldonado won the title 26-19 after Pedroza missed 2 1/2 days with an injury.
The trainer roster has expanded to include Cody Autrey, who will race at the fair before returning to the Midwest. Dallas Keen and Robertino Diodoro will be active, along with local trainers Doug O’Neill, Bill Spawr, and Jorge Gutierrez.
For the first time, TVG and HRTV both will broadcast Fairplex races.
A field of seven entered the Lewis, race 9 on a 10-race card. Bob Baffert-trained Ondine is the 8-5 preliminary favorite based on a third-place finish last out behind subsequent Grade 1 winner Sweet Lulu. Martin Garcia is named to ride the 2-for-7 filly.
Warren’s Veneda, 3 for 6 including a decisive allowance win against older fillies and mares last out, will be racing on dirt for the first time.
No problem, according to Lewis. “She trained so well on dirt at Santa Anita before she ever started,” he said.
Alonso Quinonez will ride.
Other Lewis starters are 2012 Barretts Debutante winner Bares Tripper, stakes-placed Fightin Mean Mad, front-runners A Drop Dead Diva and Real Bright Boots, and Unseen Visitor.