Sold...And There They Go -- Alhadeff Brothers Sold (Out) More Than Just A Racetrack

RENTON - The Alhadeff brothers sat in front of the television cameras looking as slick as the pages of Life Magazine. There was just the proper catch in their throats. Just the correct emotional glistening in the eyes.

Ken and Michael Alhadeff, sincerity dripping from their lips like syrup on pancakes, told a crowded press conference they were selling Longacres racetrack to Boeing.

Like actors reading a script, the Brothers Alhadeff, grandsons of the late Joe Gottstein, the track's founder, said all of the right things. They said they were committed to the future of their industry. Ken even said, ``The future can't start until Longacres stops.''

But on the backstretch, where the owners and trainers and sta-

blehands who make their livings here were cleaning out their barns and moving their horses after the long season, the feigned sincerity of the Alhadeff brothers fizzled like a wet firecracker.

On the backstretch, they know the real deal. It wasn't merely Longacres that was sold yesterday. All of them were sold. Sold up the river. Sold out. Robbed of their working place. Forget about Playfair in Spokane and Yakima Meadows. Without Longacres, there is no horse-racing industry in this state.

On the backstretch, Alhadeff has become a dirty word. ``Longacres, The Third Generation,'' is a horror movie.

``Somebody asked me what I thought of the Alhadeffs, and I told them I hope they leave town,'' said Kari Toye, who trains horses with her husband, Joe. ``The part that makes us so angry is that we're the ones that made them rich.

``The Alhadeffs have hearts and minds that are this small,'' Toye said, holding her thumb and forefinger inches from each other. ``It took three generations to screw this thing up. Their grandparents built this track. This wasn't a dying racetrack. This was a prosperous place.''

They stood around their barns yesterday, numb and hurt. They talked in small clusters. Owners and trainers, they worried about the sport's future in this state.

``When Luella (Gottstein's widow) passed away 11 months ago, we all said, `You watch, this racetrack is down the road now,' '' said Chuck Stansfield of Chuck Stansfield Racing Stables. ``And it took a year after her death for them to get rid of it. That's all it took. They didn't care about us. They don't care about us.''

The deal with Boeing was done cavalierly. It was disrespectful to the people the Alhadeffs profess to care about most. It was a deal as cold as cash.

The Alhadeffs said the horsemen can race at Playfair and Yakima Meadows, biding their time until a new racetrack is built. The horsemen laugh at that. The purses at those tracks are so small, it's like telling Ken Griffey Jr. he can't play baseball in Seattle, but he is welcomed to continue his career in Bellingham.

``There isn't enough good racing at Yakima and Playfair,'' said Stansfield. ``You're not going to breed horses just to race at those tracks. It's not worth it.''

During negotiations with Boeing, an arrangement was explored that would have kept the track alive for as many as three years. It was a healthy alternative. It would keep the industry alive in Western Washington. It would buy time for the construction of another track.

But the Alhadeffs cared so little about this industry, they declined that option, saying ``it wasn't economically or operationally viable.'' Tell that to the thousands of people they could be putting out of work.

The Alhadeff brothers said racing in Seattle can come back stronger than ever in two or three years. They said this sale could represent the dawning of a new era.

Ha! More likely, the horsemen will leave for California and never come back.

``What's going to happen?'' said Alana Goff of Alana Goff Racing Stables. ``A lot of people can't survive in those two years. They can't afford to just sit around and wait for racing to get established here again. A lot of the people are going to move to California. What else can we do? You'll go down there and buy property and get established down there. And you won't come back.''

Said Stansfield: ``You can't put this business on the back burner for two years. You need continuity in racing. If you break the continuity it is doubtful racing will come back here with any strength. People move their horses out. The breeding industry will go downhill.

``What do you do with the next yearling crop? Keep them for two years and then race them? The business doesn't work that way. A two-year lull would ruin racing here.''

Stansfield, who lives in Kent and has raced horses at Longacres for 20 years, is like many of the people on the backstretch. For him, racing isn't a job, it's a way of life. After the racing season, Stansfield and his family stay here, breaking babies and turning out horses.

Goff has been here for almost 20 years. Her daughter gallops horses. Her son works on the gardening crew. During the racing season, the backstretch is their backyard.

``The news hits you like somebody died and there's nothing you can do about it,'' Keri Toye said. ``You want to cry. This isn't just an industry. This isn't just a business. It's an emotion. It's a world. A racehorse isn't just a car on the production line.''

The only prayer for survival is that Boeing will feel a pang of conscience and lease the property for two years to horsemen such as Mark Dedomenico. There is a connection between Boeing and horse racing. The Boeing family has raced horses at Longacres. There is a stakes race named after Bill Boeing.

The hope is that Boeing still cares about racing. It is a faint hope, to be sure.

On a sun-washed autumn morning, Longacres gleams like a jewel, surrounded by the industrial sprawl. But someday the wrecker's ball will change all of this.

Racing might die. But the Brothers Alhadeff will live richly and happily ever after.

Steve Kelley's column usually is published Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the Sports section of The Times.