Bob Umphrey, the Bay Meadows racing secretary who was at Del Mar last weekend, hustling horses for a season that opens next Wednesday, pointed to the fourth race in Sunday's program.
"See this race?" Umphrey said. "It's a $19,000 purse for maidens. At Pomona, that race will be $21,000.
"I told Tom Robbins (the Santa Anita racing secretary) that I can't compete with Pomona. When Oak Tree opens, I'll have a better chance."
Pomona's only problem may be a label problem. Is it Pomona, as the Daily Racing Form calls it? Or is it the Los Angeles County Fair, the official name for the season? Or is it Fairplex Park, the new name that was given to the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds a couple of years ago?
By any name, the track opens today with its annual 18-day barrage of racing--thoroughbreds, quarter horses, Appaloosas, Arabians and special betting on televised races from New York, Louisiana and Bay Meadows, starting with Sunday's Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park.
The opening program calls for nine thoroughbred races, two quarter-horse stakes and an Appaloosa race--and there's even a non-betting Appaloosa race before the first betting race starts at 12:30.
The 49th Pomona season runs through Oct. 4. On the last two days, the track will run a couple of $100,000 races--the Pomona Derby and the Pomona Invitational Handicap.
Ask anybody in the East about Pomona and the best guess might be that it's a Mexican beer. But this breakneck season averaged 13,700 fans a day last year, ranking the track 10th in the country, and the daily handle of $2.4 million was good for No. 13. There are no turnstiles--anybody who goes to the fair can walk into the track--so the attendance is estimated from a formula based on handle and program sales.
Although business was off slightly last year--track officials blame the rain at the end of the season for that--Pomona estimates that daily throughbred purses will average about $150,000. There is almost $880,000 in thoroughbred stakes and total purses may reach $3 million.
Today's opening card is overpopulated, with 92 horses running in the nine thoroughbred races. Because 18 horses entered the $20,000 Express Stakes for quarter horses, the race was split into two $15,000 divisions, just like last year.
The winners of those 1986 divisions--Sizzlin Sauce and Truly a Neighbor--are running in the second half of today's race, which also includes Sir Alibi, an invitee to the Champion of Champions race at Los Alamitos in December.
The thoroughbred feature is the $30,000 Foothill Stakes. Corey Black, last year's leading jockey at Pomona, will be riding Hot and Smoggy, who has earned $136,000, more than any of the other 11 starters.
Hot and Smoggy, however, has drawn the No. 11 post. With Pomona's sharp, bullring turns, he could be part of the cotton-candy concession before the race is over.