The California racing scene has been radically altered from how it appeared just seven years ago. Both Bay Meadows Racetrack and Betfair Hollywood Park have been demolished to make room for development, and there is no longer a fall race meet at Fairplex Park during the annual Los Angeles County Fair.
Officials from Los Alamitos and Barretts Sales and Racing, which operated the 2013 meet at Fairplex, further changed the landscape of California racing on April 21, 2014. They announced that the September racing dates, held with pari-mutuel wagering at Fairplex since 1933, would be transferred to Los Alamitos, marking the end of fair racing in Southern California.
Shortly afterwards, the Barretts Equine Limited auction company, which has been operating Thoroughbred sales in its complex bordering the fair grounds, began looking for a new home. Although the current Barretts auction facility is both traditional and modern, staying there after racing ended seemed incongruous.
“It just didn’t make any sense to continue on there any longer,” said Kim Lloyd, general manager of Barretts Sales and Racing. “The track wouldn’t be used at all except for our 2-Year-Old Sale previews twice a year.”
The solution to move the Barretts sales 97 miles south to the Del Mar Fairgrounds was popular, but not without complications. The annual San Diego County Fair takes place for four weeks each summer, in addition to the nearly 350 diverse events that take place on the grounds each year. However, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club now operates race meets in both the summer and late fall, while horse shows at the nearby 100,000 square foot Del Mar Arena make the seaside town decidedly equestrian.
With the help of both the 22nd District Agricultural Association, landlord to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club officials Joe Harper, Craig Dado, and Josh Rubinstein, Barretts is settling into their new home with nothing but optimism for the future.
“We hate to leave our wonderful facilities,” Lloyd said, “and it’s difficult to work around events that have been established for years, but we will be very happy with the set up at Del Mar, and so will all of our customers. We want to present a first rate experience at a first rate facility.”
The horses will be sold out of the Surfside Race Place, next door to the track. “We will revitalize the sales ring there,” Lloyd said. Horses will be stabled on the backside when racing isn’t underway, and in 60 portable stalls recently purchased by Barretts when the meet is running.
The May Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training & Horses of Racing Age on May 28 will be the first at Del Mar, but the new location isn’t the only unknown. Not only is Del Mar is finishing the installation of a new racing surface, which will be truly tested for the first time during the sale’s training preview on May 26, but there will be new pre-sale drug testing mandated for all horses in the catalogue.
“The new track surface is made from the same material that Santa Anita used to replace their main track [in 2014],” Del Mar’s Executive Vice President of Racing and Industry Relations Tom Robbins said. “Horsemen have been very happy with that dirt. We believe it’s beneficial to have similar surfaces as the horses move from one venue to another.”
The sales horses will be allowed on the track in mid May, just prior to the preview day. “Normally we wouldn’t get to see the racetrack in operation this early in the year, which is a plus for us,” Robbins said. “We think having Barretts here is great. We’re excited; they’re excited. I really feel they’ve found the right spot.”
In conjunction with the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), Barretts is launching an out-of-competition drug test program. “We’re all for transparency,” Lloyd said. “Barretts wants to be at the forefront of transparency to protect consumer confidence. At the same time, we thought that many people didn’t understand the current testing process. We’re working with the CHRB to better explain the protocols to our buyers, consignors, and practicing veterinarians.”
Although Barretts has nothing to do with the testing regulations, which are up to the CHRB, the goal of the staff is to be better informed about the process, which will be using hair, urine, and blood samples on all the horses in the sale. “We will be able to inform everyone else involved of both our expectations and the implementation,” Lloyd explained. “We think this will eventually go nationwide, and we’re happy it’s starting here.”
Lloyd, an Oklahoma native who joined the Barretts team in 2006, noted that the company hopes to focus on turning the sales into an event that draws a larger, more diverse crowd. “We want to draw new people in and market differently than we have in the past to the local area,” he said. “This is an equine-centric location. People are involved in horse shows, rodeos. We want to expose them all to the Thoroughbred business, and even if they don’t buy when they first come, they will love the action of the sale itself. Frankly, that’s why we started the paddock sale.”
The Del Mar paddock sales debuted in 2012, first taking place in July, and then added a November sale last year. Instead of being conducted in the formal setting of the auction pavilion, the sales happen in Del Mar’s expansive, manicured paddock in front of the racegoing crowd. “The toughest part of getting new owners involved is exposing them to the auction process,” Lloyd said. “This sale helps break that barrier down.”
There are four sales scheduled for the rest of the year. Following the May Sale and the Paddock Sale in July, there is a Select Yearling Sale on August 15 and a Fall Yearling & Horses of Racing Age Sale on Oct. 28. However, they may not be the only offerings this year.
“We’re very fluid with what we’re doing at Del Mar,” Lloyd said. “The sales dates and certainly the types of sales can change according to the market. We’re providing the service as the sales company for both the buyers and sellers, and we will offer what the market dictates. The industry will tell us what they need.”
He added that one in six horses that race in Southern California have gone through the Barretts sales ring. “That’s a tremendous number. In the end, we’re just glad to be down here. We want to evolve and improve for the buyers, the sellers, and the horses.”