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LOS ALAMITOS : Plano Turns Southland Uncertainty Into Mixture of Business, Pleasure

January 12, 1994|STEVE ANDERSEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After winning the training title at the Sacramento harness meeting last summer, Rick Plano turned the second half of 1993 into a working vacation.

Plano had too many sharp horses in his stable to put them all in the pasture and sit on the sideline, waiting for harness racing to resume in California.

Instead, he shipped 20 horses to Vernon Downs in Vernon, N.Y., where both he and his wife, Maryann, had grown up.

Plano raced at Vernon Downs for a few months before shipping to a New Jersey farm centrally located between Freehold Raceway and Garden State Park. He won several races on the East Coast and sold half of the horses he had taken with him.

Plano moved back to California in November and began preparing for the new year. When a harness meeting was announced for the winter at Los Alamitos in mid-December, Plano's stable was almost ready. Last Friday night, the opening night of the Premier Harness Racing Assn. meeting, Plano, of La Palma, had eight starters.

"Not knowing if we'd be racing here was the downside or the sad side to training here this winter," he said. "If we didn't open, we would have gone back to New York or New Jersey. We were as close to dead as we could be."

Plano won only one race on Friday, but it was the one to win--the $11,000 feature for older pacers. Plano drove his wife's 4-year-old gelding, Keepyourpantson. Keepyourpantson has earned more than $129,000 and has come into his own in the last year after racing in the shadow of another Plano trained-pacer, The Starting Gate, in 1992.

Last year, Plano sent The Starting Gate to the East, where he finished second in the $1-million North American Cup at Greenwood Raceway in Toronto and proved to be competitive with some of the nation's best 3-year-old pacers.

Keepyourpantson stayed in California for the first half of 1993 and won seven of 12 starts, racing primarily in California-bred stakes. He was among the horses Plano took with him last fall and he won at both Hazel Park in Michigan and at Vernon Downs.

On Friday, Keepyourpantson defeated the top older pacers at Los Alamitos, including Vacationing, a 5-year-old gelding from Doug Ackerman's stable, and Positron, a 7-year-old horse with earnings of more than $305,000.

Keepyourpantson will race in his own age group Saturday night in the Breeders Championship for 4-year-old pacers. In most years, there are no state-bred stakes for 4-year-olds, but last year was anything but normal.

There has been no harness racing in California since the Sacramento meeting ended in early August, and several stakes were not conducted. Instead of refunding payments to owners, the races will be held over the next month. Overall there are eight stakes--four Breeders Championships and four races in the Electioneer Futurity series--to be run for 4-year-olds this month.

Plano has horses in most divisions of the 3- and 4-year-old stakes, among them Maxanali, a 3-year-old pacing filly, who was a stakes winner at Sacramento, and the 4-year-old trotter, Hays My Game, one of the best of his generation.

*

Handle figures from opening weekend were less than projected, but officials were not overly concerned. They were happy simply to be racing.

Friday's program was shortened to 10 races when three simulcast races from The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., were canceled because of a snowstorm there. Friday's handle was $758,035.

The Meadowlands simulcasts went off without any problems on Saturday night and handled more than $136,000, a figure that pleased General Manager Fred Kuebler. Saturday's total handle was $736,026.

The track plans to simulcast three races each night from The Meadowlands.

Last year, harness racing averaged $899,040 on the first two nights, which included live cards of 12 and 10 races. This year's purses are based on an average handle of $850,000 and to get there, harness racing will need full fields of competitive horses and good luck with the weather.

Some of the horses on the backstretch are not ready to race and a majority of those that are haven't had a recent start. Many of last weekend's starters hadn't raced since last summer's Sacramento meeting and didn't have qualifying races in which to gauge current form. That problem will sort itself out over the next few weeks, but until then some bettors might be wary.

"It's tough to bet on horses that don't have any (recent past performance) lines," Kuebler said. "I wasn't sure anyone knew we were opening. It wasn't near enough time to prepare."

Kuebler said filling this week's races will be the toughest chore of the meeting because an additional night's worth of horses will be needed to round out the racing week. The track filled 10 races for Thursday's program, but chose to use only nine, saving one for Friday or Saturday. Of those nine, two are short fields of stakes horses and two are for maidens.

Los Alamitos Notes

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