Tonight's return of harness racing to Cal Expo will be shadowed with shock and sadness over the sudden death last week of Alan Kirschenbaum, a noted Hollywood figure who was also one of the state's leading harness owners and breeders.
Kirschenbaum was found dead in his Burbank home Oct. 26. Early reports indicate he may have committed suicide, but an autopsy is pending, according to the Los Angeles Coroner's Office. No other details were released.
"We really don't know what happened; it's just all so sad," said Chris Schick of Golden Bear Racing, the Cal Expo meet's new management company. "Alan was part and parcel of our industry. It's been a tough year for our whole industry, but losing Alan right now is terrible."
Kirschenbaum, a successful television writer, director and producer, is best known for his comedy shows, including the longtime hit "Yes, Dear" and the new "Friend Me." The son of comedian Freddie Roman, he also worked on "My Name is Earl," "Raising Hope" and several other popular comedies.
Kirschenbaum, 51, also had a passion for harness racing and was a nationally known advocate for the California industry. Over 30 years as a licensed horseman, he owned more than 600 horses, bred stakes winners and competed as an amateur driver. He is still the registered owner of 181 standardbreds, according to the U.S. Trotting Association. To put that into perspective, a total of 206 horses are entered for opening weekend at Cal Expo.
Kirschenbaum bought Cherry Tree Farm in Wilton as a home for his horses and often came to see them compete at Cal Expo.
The new meet will start with a memorial for him in the winner's circle. Tonight's eighth race will be named in his honor. Schick said he's working on adding Kirschenbaum's name to Cal Expo's new "Legends of Racing" series.
Just days before his death, Kirschenbaum resigned his posts as president of the California Harness Horsemen's Association and chairman of the California Standardbred Sires Stakes Program.
"We were still trying to deal with the shock of his resignation what were we going to do? when we had this new, terrible shock," said Vickie Desomer, a trainer and breeder. "Alan was our rock."
Editor's Note: This article has been changed from the print version to correct the date on which Kirschenbaum's body was found.