Standardbreds from New Zealand and Australia can be found at every track in North America, but nowhere do they play as important a role as at Los Alamitos.
Without horses from the land Down Under, California easily could have become the land gone under for harness racing.
"Of the 1,100 horses stabled here, about 350 are from New Zealand and Australia," said Fred Kuebler, Los Alamitos' director of racing. "There's not even a ghost of a chance we could race without them. They're a very vital part of our program."
In 18 races not restricted to California-breds last Friday and Saturday, 48 of the 129 horses were from New Zealand or Australia.
California's distance from the East and the Midwest, the higher prices for stock in those regions and the availability of horses from New Zealand and Australia have made them indispensable to the survival of California harness racing.
Horsemen are thankful for the standardbred pipeline across the Pacific, and several agents have forged careers as links between the continents.
Paul Blumenfeld, leading trainer at the meeting with 13 victories, won a pace Saturday with recent arrival Mister Holmsdale for bloodstock agent Murray Lawson of New Zealand.
"I sent 17 over in January and five more now," Lawson said. "I've sold five already and expect to sell Mister Holmsdale this week."
Lawson, who lives in Christchurch, has been a business associate of Blumenfeld for three years and spends most of the Los Alamitos meeting here.
"I train about 40 horses, and 25 to 30 are from New Zealand," Blumenfeld said. "I call them a poor man's Albatross. You can buy from $12,000 to $50,000 and get anything. For $50,000 back East, you're not going to get anything great."
Blumenfeld-trained winners at the meeting include Bonny Bo Scot, Game Advance, Sir Adios, Franco Eire and Mister Holmsdale.
"I've got to have a good agent over there like Murray to spot them," Blumenfeld said. "In New Zealand, you have more hobby trainers. You can be a lawyer or hairdresser and have a couple of horses to fool with. They're already conditioned to go a distance. Here we develop quick speed."
For years, horses have been flown to California, but some are again arriving by boat because of spiraling costs.
Flight costs have doubled to about $6,500 a horse; fees on a ship are about $4,000 each. A direct flight takes from 16 to 20 hours, a trip by boat about 16 days.
Frank Ranaldi, an agent from Australia, watched Our Black Print rally for second place in his U.S. debut with Joe Anderson in another pace Saturday.
Ranaldi, from Perth, has been sending horses to New Jersey and California for 12 years but has concentrated his efforts at Los Alamitos recently.
"Joe and I have been doing business for seven years," Ranaldi said. "I hooked up with him (while) winter-training at Del Mar. He sat behind six horses I brought over one morning. I thought he was going to buy one. He bought them all."
Ranaldi's acquisitions include Kalparrin, who set a Los Alamitos track record of 1:53 2/5 for an aged gelding pacer in 1986 with Anderson.
"The reason so many horses are on the market there is the handicapping system," Ranaldi said. "The more races you win, the tougher class you go into, and you have no way out.
"There are no claiming races. Once you reach the invitational and free-for-all levels, you are stuck there. There are a lot of standing-start races, where you could be handicapped 40 yards behind."
Most Australian and New Zealand horses trace their bloodlines to the United States because of stallions who were exported there. "The country has a lot of green pastures and no pollution problems," said Ranaldi.
Australian-born Ross Croghan has 42 horses in his stable, 25 from New Zealand or Australia. "They have great grazing land there and grow big, strong horses," Croghan said.
"I usually go over once a year and bring some back. I have an agent, a leading New Zealand trainer named Peter Blanchard, who screens them.
"I find New Zealand more of a buyer's market than Australia. They're cheaper than what they are in the U.S. You go to a sale in this country and you pay top dollar for a good racehorse. In New Zealand, you get good value for your money. You can normally get a horse for between $20,000 and $30,000." Croghan's favorite imports have been Canberra Del and Vance Lobell, the latter currently in the invitational.
Trainer Bob Gordon is another fan of Down Under horses. He has won the Fireball Pacing Series final a record eight times with foreign horses and boasts invitational ace Speedy Alba, a $30,000 purchase who has almost doubled his investment.
Los Alamitos Notes