It predated all of its fellow Southern California racetracks, but it never reached the level of veneration of Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, or Del Mar.
But what it lacked in prestige it made up for in excitement. With its tight turns and small size, Fairplex Park nevertheless managed to become a fan favorite among the Southland's racing fans when it hosted live action every September for decades.
Fairplex Park came to be in 1932, beating out the big three tracks before parimutuel wagering returned thanks to the Woolwine-Maloney Bill of 1933. That led to the construction of Santa Anita, Del Mar and Hollywood Park, and engineered California racing's Renaissance.
But Fairplex Park beat all of them to the Southland.
Traditionally, its meet was held during the annual Los Angeles County Fair in September after Del Mar's annual summer meeting finished. Consisting of a five-eighths of a mile bullring in the town of Pomona, California, Fairplex Park always provided fans with fun racing thanks to its short length and tight turns. It was not uncommon to see horses racing wide going into the first turn, nor was it uncommon to see races last for a couple of laps. Much like Belmont Park's wide, sweeping turns, the tight turns of Fairplex Park became the venue's trademark.
Despite its status as the senior track in the Southland, Fairplex Park was seen as more minor league than its sister venues. Outside of a couple of mounts, many big name riders (particularly in the later years) took the meet off, and that gave other jockeys who may not have had stellar meets the chance to shine.
But there were well known riders who were Fairplex regulars. Longtime Southern California staple David Flores had success over the bullring, winning races and meet titles.
However, no jockey is more closely linked with the Pomona track than Martin Pedroza.
The veteran rider just knew how to get around that track, and it fit him like a glove. He frequently rode post-time favorites and winners, and he could rack up an impressive win total during the three weeks racing was in session. He is the undisputed best rider in the history of Fairplex Park, winning several meet titles and countless victories. Though Pedroza was never without success at any Southern California racetrack, it was Fairplex where he always took center stage.
Just as high-profile jockeys tended to not ride much at Fairplex Park, most big name trainers eschewed it with the exception of maybe some stakes races. But one trainer who loved Fairplex Park was none other than the legendary Mel Stute. Known as the "King of Fairplex Park," Stute captured myriad titles at the bullring and came up with no less than 187 races and 33 stakes winners (both being all-time records) there throughout his distinguished career. Paying tribute to its most successful trainer (and maybe biggest fan), Fairplex named a bar in Stute's honor there and also made him the first member of its Hall of Fame in 2003. In addition, Fairplex ran a race named in his honor on one of its programs in a richly deserved tribute.
Sandwiched between Del Mar and Santa Anita's Oak Tree meet, Fairplex Park offered thrilling racing and had the advantage of being held in conjunction with the Fair. That gave the meet the chance to attract thousands of people each day as both the fair and meet were limited to just a number of weeks. That sense of urgency had the potential of luring an abundance of fans to the bullring.
Though Fairplex never held any races on the level of the Big 'Cap or Hollywood Gold Cup, it hosted longtime fixtures like the Pomona Derby, Beverly J. Lewis Stakes, and the Ralph M. Hinds and Pomona Handicaps. Horses who went on to stakes success made stops there, too. Earn Your Stripes, winner of the 1987 Pomona Derby, later placed in some graded stakes. Many years before Earn Your Stripes competed, Codex ran off the board during a start in 1979 but later won the Santa Anita Derby and Preakness Stakes. That gives Fairplex Park the distinction of hosting a future classic winner.
Following the 2013 season, Fairplex Park made the decision to stop hosting Thoroughbred racing during the Fair season. The dates were subsquently transferred over to Los Alamitos Race Course in Cypress, where the Los Angeles County Fair Meet is still run each year. Fairplex Park still stands, and was used for a time to host the Barretts Sales for buyers of Thoroughbreds as well as serve as a place to stable horses.
Racing has long since stopped at the bullring, but those who saw live programs there or watched on television fondly remember the action that went on in the straights and turns. Fairplex Park possessed a certain charm due to its unique characteristics. It just had a uniqueness all its own with its layout and place on the yearly schedule.
Still missed today, Fairplex Park nonetheless will always be part of California racing.
187 stakes. Wilson, Art. "Fairplex King Stute's got lots on his mind." San Bernardino Sun September 17, 2010. https://www.sbsun.com/2010/09/17/horse-racing-fairplex-king-stutes-got-lots-on-his-mind/
first member of its Hall of Fame in 2003. Ibid
33 stakes winners. Christine, Bill. "THOROUGHBRED RACING: Town Caper's Fairplex Victory Continues a Stute Tradition." Los Angeles Times September 17, 1993