DEL MAR — With an expected shortage of stables within the next five years, the 22nd District Agricultural Association is preparing to conduct a feasibility study for stabling 1,000 horses at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, a move that could determine the future of racing in Southern California.
In an informational report at the Dec. 16 meeting of the 22nd DAA board, which governs the fairgrounds, Director Russ Penniman presented an overview of upcoming stabling needs following the closure of Hollywood Park and an expected loss of about 850 stalls at Santa Anita by 2020.
An estimated 3,400 thoroughbred horses are needed in Southern California to generate a field size large enough to sustain the sport successfully, according to the report.
It is generally accepted that stabling should equal 110 percent of the horse inventory, resulting in a need for 3,700 stalls. Currently 4,050 are available, but there is an anticipated overall loss of about 1,400.
During the eight months that Santa Anita is open for live racing, the venue has 1,850 stalls available. The facility is also used for off-site stabling for 12 weeks annually during the Los Alamitos season and Del Mar’s fall meet.
Due to water quality regulations, it is unlikely Santa Anita’s existing stable area will be viable in five years, the report states.
While the owner has not released plans for future stabling, it is believed only about 850 to 1,200 replacement stalls will be built, at a cost of approximately $20 million.
“Who pays for construction … is unclear and under negotiation,” the report states.
Los Alamitos has 700 stalls available year round and is expected to build 100 more, however, it’s possible the privately owned track could eventually be sold for development not related to racing.
Racing operations ended at Fairplex Park in 2013 and stabling will not be available there after March, resulting in a loss of 500 stalls.
San Luis Rey Downs, with its 500 stalls, is two hours from Santa Anita, creating a challenge for some horsemen, according to Penniman’s report. The owner tried to build additional stalls but was denied because of federal regulations.
The 500 stalls at Galway Downs are not considered top-tier facilities for thoroughbred horses, the report states.
“Del Mar is being looked at to make up a 1,000-stall deficiency,” Penniman said.
The seaside venue currently houses 2,000 stalls — more than nearly any track in the country. But they were not included in Penniman’s counts because they are only used during the summer and fall meets.
“Horses come in to race, and then they leave,” Penniman said.
Del Mar’s stables could only be used for approximately 10 to 11 months of the year because of the myriad other events that take place there, including the Del Mar National, numerous other horse shows and the annual Scream Zone. Stabling would be prohibited during the San Diego County Fair.
“When you look at it, Del Mar would be the most capable track but we do other things,” Penniman said. “All the other tracks are exclusively horse racing facilities.”
Stabling revenues would at least have to offset money lost from activities that are canceled.
“For every event that we potentially lose, we have to be made whole,” Penniman said. “We can’t be in the charity business to supply the industry with stables. We get no state money. Financially we can’t go backwards.”
The 22nd DAA board is expected to formally authorize the study, which will be conducted in partnership with the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and Race Track Authority, within the next few months, basically to determine “if we can do this and what it’s going to cost,” Penniman said.
“I’d rather be in front of events than pushed by events,” he said, referring to the possible loss of stalls at other venues.
“It’s a challenge but I think we’re up to it,” fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell said.
“As stabling is critical to California horse racing, industry stakeholders are prepared to provide the necessary funding and a long-term commitment in order to secure the needed facilities to preserve their industry,” Penniman’s report states.