By Tom Ferrall
Staff Writer 

San Luis Rey Training Center delays reopening until April


Last updated 2/26/2018 at 1:08am

Not wanting to have horses on the premises until construction of new barns is completed, officials at the San Luis Rey Training Center in Bonsall have delayed the reopening of the facility until April.

Officials had previously said that the facility would start welcoming back a limited number of horses in February and that training would take place while temporary barns were being constructed to replace the eight barns that burned in the Lilac fire, Dec. 7. Six barns that weren't damaged by the fire were to house the first 200 arrivals.

Kevin Habell, general manager of the San Luis Rey Training Center, explained safety concerns and the desire not to have split squads – a group of horses and horsemen at Del Mar and another group at San Luis Rey – prompted a change of plans.

"We decided to get all the construction completed before bringing in horses," Habell said. "It will be a safer environment. Otherwise, we'd have to put up safety fencing and re-route everything (away from the construction area)."

Habell added that officials with the California Thoroughbred Trainers and the Thoroughbred Owners of California organizations as well as Del Mar representatives all agreed that keeping the horses at Del Mar until San Luis Rey is ready to open its entire stable area is the best plan of attack.

"All the entities came together and said why split them (horses and horsemen) up," Habell said.

The cost of staffing two training centers operating at the same time was also a consideration. For example, there would need to be teams of clockers, ambulance personnel, outriders and starting gate crew members working at both Del Mar and San Luis Rey.

San Luis Rey, which is owned by the Stronach Group, is erecting two big, tent-like ClearSpan barns to replace the burned barns. The Stronach Group owns and operates racetracks across the U.S. and has used ClearSpan barns at its Laurel Park racetrack in Maryland and at Gulfstream Park in Florida.

"It's not traditional, but it's something new and I like it," Habell said. "I went out to Laurel and the trainer's loved it."

Habell said the two ClearSpan barns, which have 35- to 40-foot ceilings, will accommodate 250 stalls. Those stalls combined with the stalls in the existing six barns will give San Luis Rey the ability to house more than 450 horses, according to Habell.

San Luis Rey is working under a tight deadline to get the new barns up as Del Mar, which has hosted the majority of San Luis Rey-based thoroughbreds since the fire, can only be used as a training center until April 13 because the Del Mar Fairgrounds needs to reclaim the barn area for its National Horse Show. As of Feb. 15, Habell said there were 375 horses at Del Mar.

Habell said the goal is to begin accepting horses from Del Mar in early April.

"Every day I get calls from trainers asking, 'how's it going,'" Habell said. "They can't wait to get back, and we can't wait to have them here."

San Luis Rey mainstays Peter Miller, owner of the multiple training titles on the tough Southern California circuit, Daniel Dunham, Sam Scolamieri and Joe Herrick are among those anxious to return to Bonsall, as are top conditioners Richard Baltas, Doug O'Neill and Phil D'Amato.


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