Veteran trainer Blane Schvaneveldt appears to have the inside track for the $200,000 Kaweah Bar Handicap Friday on opening night at Los Alamitos Race Course.
The veteran trainer has posted eight victories in the 350-yard race for 3-year-olds and is expected to enter Fashionable Late, who posted the best 350 time (17.33 seconds) at the track last season.
The 49th annual meet features quarter horse, Arabian, thoroughbred and mixed-breed racing through Dec. 19. A track-record $12 million is being offered in total purses and $2,152,500 overall in stakes money.
Three stakes races have been added, as well as the five-race, $650,000 American Quarter Horse Assn. Challenge Championships on Oct. 30.
"We have a strong stakes schedule from top to bottom and we're looking forward to a sensational year of racing," said Ronnie Church, the track's racing secretary.
The Kaweah Bar is the traditional opener and should be hotly contested.
In addition to Fashionable Late, who has run impressively (18.1 seconds) in conditioning at the Pomona Fairplex, the field is expected to include Lethal Artillery, who defeated Fashionable Late in the Ojai Handicap last season. Lethal Artillery has posted an 18.8 run at the Fairplex.
Trials to the El Primero and La Primera derbies are slated Saturday. The El Primero final is April 30 and The La Primera is May 1.
THINGS TO WATCH
There are several interesting sidelights being played out this season. Some of the more noteworthy to watch:
* Expect the race to heat up between Lynn Ashby and Billy Lewis, as each vies to become the first trainer of Arabians to record 400 career victories. Ashby has 387 victories, Lewis has 384.
* Trainer Caesar Dominguez plans to return with a limited stable. He ranks third on the track's all-time trainers' list with 907 victories and won the summer and fall programs in 1989.
* Also returning is D. Wayne Lukas, who returned part-time to quarter horse racing a year ago. He is back and his stable is heavy with 2-year-olds. Lukas was the track's top trainer in 1974-75.
* As for Schvaneveldt, he was bested last year by Paul Jones, whose 156 victories was tops in the nation. Schvaneveldt had won the 10 previous track titles. Both were passed over for AQHA honors in favor of Jack Brooks, who earned more than $2.2 million at tracks in five states. Brooks saddled only one entry at Los Alamitos in 1998, but says he might make an assault this season on the track's richer races.
The 62-night harness meet, which ended April 4, proved popular with trainers, drivers and horsemen alike.
Track officials figured on an average of 10 to 12 races each night, but often added three or four more.
"We had a great time putting this meet together, thanks to the cooperation from horsemen," Los Alamitos President and General Manager H. Rick Henson said. "We're already looking forward to improving our product in order to enjoy another strong season next year."
The four-month event produced six nights with a handle of $1.8 million or more. Each ranks among the 10 best nights of harness wagering in its 27 years at Los Alamitos.
Total wagering was up 3.5% over 1998 to $75.1 million overall. Out-of-state handle was up 4% to a nightly average of $311,110.
Track owner Edward C. Allred operated the meet for the third consecutive season. It featured an upset victory by newcomer Givemewhatineed, driven by Ed Hensley, in the $190,000 Arnold Pacing Series Final on April 2. A total of $2,024,608 was wagered on the 15-race April 2 program, second best in track history.
It wasn't all rosy. On-track harness attendance was down 7% to an average of 1,249 a night. That corresponded to an 8% dip in on-track handle, to $277,411.
And betting in California was slow, dropping 3.2% to $900,475.