The Coast News Group
Del Mar Fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell, left, presents Russ Penniman with a photo collage highlighting his two years as president of the board that governs the state-owned facility. Stephen Shewmaker was appointed to take over from Penniman at the Jan. 9 meeting. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
CommunityDel Mar

Shewmaker takes reins of 22nd DAA

DEL MAR — The 22nd District Agricultural Association began 2018 with a new slate of officers, voting 8-0 at the Jan. 9 meeting to appoint Stephen Shewmaker president and Richard Valdez vice president of the nine-member board. Director Lisa Barkett was absent.

“I’ve got some very, very big shoes to fill,” Shewmaker said, referring to his predecessor Russ Penniman. “He’s put in more work than you can believe on this board. You’ve done a tremendous job. Thank you very much.”

Penniman, a retired rear admiral who served 35 years in the U.S. Navy, was appointed to the board that governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds in February 2003 by then-Gov. Gray Davis. He was last reappointed by Jerry Brown in September 2014.

He has served as president of the board since January 2016. At the time, Director David Watson was in line to take over the gavel but asked that he not be considered — “not that you would have elected me,” he said — for a variety of reasons.

Watson said Penniman was “the obvious choice, the person most qualified and most deserving” because of his advocacy for the district and knowledge of its operation, as well as his involvement in the horse-racing industry, which proved beneficial when the 22nd DAA hosted the Breeders’ Cup for the first time in November 2017.

Watson described the decision to appoint Penniman out of order as “wise” and “brilliant.”

“The Breeders’ Cup would not have been as successful without you,” Watson added.

Joe Harper, chief executive officer of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, agreed, saying that organization and the fair board are “joined at the hip and you’ve made life easier for us.”

Fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell also thanked Penniman for his guidance as president.

“You’ve been an inspirational and tremendous leader,” he said. “You never tell us what to do but you give us great direction.”

“Thank you for allowing me to do this for the last couple of years,” Penniman said, adding that the club played a bigger role in the Breeders’ Cup success.

Shewmaker was appointed to the 22nd DAA board by Brown in October 2012 and reappointed in August 2015. He recently retired as president of Cubic Transportation Systems.

Brown appointed Valdez, an attorney, to the board in October 2014 and reappointed him in January 2016.

Members are appointed by the governor to four-year terms, but some are named to fill seats vacated midterm. They serve without pay.

In other 22nd DAA news, Director Fred Schenk announced the first concert selected for the 2018 San Diego County Fair. Grammy Award-winning country duo Sugarland — an appropriate choice given the fair’s 2018 theme, “How Sweet It Is” — will perform June 2.

Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Jan. 20 through Ticketmaster. Presale tickets will be available between 10 a.m. Jan. 18 and 11:59 p.m. Jan. 19. The presale password will be emailed to those who subscribe to the fair’s email newsletter and posted on the fair’s social media accounts Jan. 17.

In other horse racing news, Harper said a three-year Breeders’ Cup calendar is expected to be released as early as next month and it could include Del Mar as a future host.

He said Del Mar Thoroughbred Club plans to send a letter saying, “Yes, we’ll do it again.” But that won’t happen too soon because “you need a year at least to prepare.”

Harper also announced that Josh Rubenstein was named president of the club on Jan. 9. Rubenstein was vice president and chief operations officer. He takes over for Harper, who will remain CEO.

George Bradvica, manager of Surfside Race Place, reported that about 325 horses evacuated when the San Luis Rey Downs training facility was partially destroyed by the recent Lilac fire remain at Del Mar.

“There’s a lot of trauma back there (in the backstretch) still,” he said. “But they’re happy to be here.”

He said experts have been brought in to help with the physical and emotional issues. Penniman said the horses will likely remain onsite until April.