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Times drops horse racing

Readers of The Los Angeles Times who follow horse racing or work in the business (and there are of lot of those types in Arcadia) have no doubt wondered: “What the heck is going on? Where is the horse racing?”

Larry Stewart

I can shed some light on that since I was directly affected by the Times’ decision to cut back on horse racing coverage to the point of virtually nothing.

After more than 30 years of writing for the Times Sports section and, for the past year, covering horse racing, I was laid off on July 14.

So was longtime horse racing handicapper Bob Mieszerski, along with 11 other people in Sports.

In all, 250 Times employees were laid off in what is being called “Black Monday.”

The horse racing beat had been offered to me by my boss at the Times, sports editor Randy Harvey. Being an Arcadia resident and having enjoyed my many visits to Santa Anita over the years, I accepted Harvey’s offer. At the time, I wouldn’t have dreamed the Times would ever completely drop horse racing. But that’s what has happened, and my time at the Times has come to an end.

It was a great run. I met many interesting people and enjoyed many great experiences. I am not bitter or angry. These are tough economic times and the newspaper business in particular is suffering greatly. The sports editor had to make some tough decisions about who to keep and who to let go and also what to cover and what not to cover.

Coverage of the Lakers, for example, might increase with the addition of a second full-time beat writer. Coverage of hockey, golf and tennis will decrease. The beat writer assigned to cover the Ducks, Eric Stephens, also got laid off.

But it was horse racing that took the biggest hit. That’s not to say there won’t be any coverage of major races, such as the Pacific Classic, Del Mar’s signature event, on Aug. 24. Or the Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita Oct. 24-25.

But it appears the only way a handicap and some form of race charts will make it back into the paper is for Santa Anita to pay for the space. That would be a revolutionary move, but it could happen.

When I first took over the horse racing beat, I continually heard complaints from readers about the abbr eviated race charts in the Times. I was told Santa Anita was willing to buy an ad to help pay for the space to run full charts.

Sam Zell took control of the Times’ parent company, Tribune, last December and during a speech to employees a few months later he said we all had to come up with ideas to generate revenue.

I e-mailed Zell to let him know about Santa Anita’s willingness to help defray the cost of running full horse racing charts. He e-mailed back, saying essentially, “Let’s get this done, and if it doesn’t get done, I want to know why.”

But there are basic journalistic rules about selling ads to a news sources. For example, say Donald Sterling paid for a daily front-page ad in Sports with the stipulation that his Clippers get better play than Jerry Buss’ Lakers.

You can see the problem.

But if there are ground rules, maybe something could be worked out that would be good for all concerned. The Times could certainly use the money. Of Zell’s takeover of Tribune, Business Week recently said it was “shaping up to be one of the most disastrous the media world has ever seen.”

I know from e-mails, phone calls and conversations with people around Arcadia that many people are so angry about the Times’ decision to drop horse racing that they have canceled their subscriptions.

The return of a handicap and some form of charts might bring back a few of those readers. But the Times has to be careful. Selling the space to Santa Anita may come with a high price, and that price is the Times’ credibility.

However, desperate times call for desperate measures.

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