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An E-Ticket Ride

Doc Allred made a small fortune in the abortion business and spent one to rescue Los Alamitos; it has been no ordinary life

July 26, 2002|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The best way to make sense of Doc Allred's improbable life and times is to look back, long before the riches and admirers. Before the controversy. Before enemies condemned his soul to burn in the fiery depths of hell.

It was the late 1940s when Allred first saw horses run, brought to Santa Anita Park by his stepfather and later by his grandmother, riding a streetcar that came from downtown. Imagine what it was like for a poor boy. The call to post, colorful silks and thundering hooves. Like a dream.

Between races, he noticed parimutuel tickets scattered across the ground. He saw guys walking around, nudging the paper slips with their shoes, checking to see if anyone had been inattentive or dumb enough to toss out a winner.

When Allred grew a little bigger, he began pedaling to the track on Sunday mornings. The clean-up crews did not come until Monday, so the grandstand would be littered with detritus from the previous day. Stashing his bike in the bushes, keeping an eye out for the watchman, he would jump the fence to collect gunny sacks of discarded tickets.

Often there were winners for his stepfather to cash in later. As Allred says, "We didn't have too much when I was a kid."

This childhood memory contains much pertinent information, threads of the man Allred would become. The young doctor who, in the late 1960s, spotted opportunity in the abortion business. The aging millionaire who, years later, poured an unwarranted amount of cash into a rundown track in Orange County, creating the small gem that is Los Alamitos Race Course.

And something else about those Sunday mornings. "It was a little foreboding for a 12-year-old when you knew you weren't supposed to be there," he says.

But Allred went just the same. He has lived for 66 years on his own terms, unapologetic, even if it meant irritating allies and befriending a few adversaries.

Country Gentleman

This story would be simpler if it could be contained within the snug confines of the race track.

On a Friday afternoon Dr. Edward Allred sits at a private table in a club overlooking the finish line, nibbling slices of watermelon from a fruit plate and sipping Diet Coke. His style is direct but hardly brash, his head often ducking as he speaks. He is stocky, well-groomed in a knit shirt and slacks.

Notice the freshly painted grandstands, he says like a proud grandfather. See the way the track is tended?

In the sport of quarter horse racing--a stepchild to the more glamorous, more lucrative thoroughbred scene--this is the acknowledged Taj Mahal and Allred is irrefutable.

His stable produces winning horses year after year. Though Los Alamitos is shadowed by thoroughbred showcases Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar, it manages to stage California's richest annual race, the Los Alamitos Million Futurity.

With horse racing on the decline, bettors lured away by card rooms and Indian casinos, the man and his millions have propped up an entire segment of the industry.

"He's our biggest owner, biggest breeder, biggest track operator and biggest bettor," says Dan Fick, executive director of racing for the American Quarter Horse Assn. "Day in and day out, we count our blessings that Doc is involved in our game."

But his story is too big for 136 acres of track and barns, too big for sport alone. Out in the world, things get trickier.

Though Los Alamitos provides jobs and sales tax to the city of Cypress, the officialdom views its owner with skepticism, wary of his desire to bring in slot machines and other forms of gaming. They know him as a savvy negotiator.

"He likes to sit back and say he's a country gentleman," City Councilman Tim Keenan says. "He's no fool."

In the supercharged atmosphere of reproductive rights, Allred owns one of the nation's largest privately held chains of abortion clinics, Family Planning Associates Medical Group, with 21 offices in California and two in Illinois. His success has brought not only wealth but protests, death threats and violent attacks.

Yet he has not run to allies for support. When Allred suspected Planned Parenthood of unfair competition and business practices, he filed a lawsuit. The women's groups that protest in favor of abortion he dismisses as "screeching types that seek confrontation."

If anything, the avowed Republican seems more aligned with conservatives who oppose him. Jack Schuler, an attorney who has sued him twice for medical malpractice in cases that were settled out of court, has been quoted as calling him "likable, a good businessman." Allred gets unexpected praise from a pastor whose organization has picketed his clinic in Long Beach for 19 years.

"We have had theological discussions and he has asked my opinion, which makes him unique among abortionists," says Rev. Al Howard, who operates a church and home for unwed mothers in Long Beach. "If you did not know what he did, who he was, if you met him at a party, you'd think he was a real nice guy."

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