Forty-five years after his first day working at Los Alamitos Race Course, Howard Knuchell, the track’s longtime director of operations, will retire following the conclusion of the simulcast program on Tuesday, April 11.
Originally from Los Angeles, Knuchell started his employment at the track during the Horsemen’s Quarter Horse Racing Association race meet in 1972, some 14 years after his family first moved to nearby Rossmoor in 1958. As a young boy, Knuchell would often ride his bicycle to Los Alamitos just to catch a glimpse of the beautiful horses either training or racing. He would also visit the track with his dad, Wally, spending many nights cheering for his favorite horse of the time, the great Palomino Kaweah Bar. Knuchell, who was part of the first graduating class at Los Alamitos High School in 1970, would soon join his dad as an employee in the track’s operations department, where his first assignment was as an usher in the box-seat section of the upper grandstand.
“We had five ushers at the time and I was one of them,” he said. “I was in the section where the Vessels Club patio is now located. I also sold the reserve seats and sold admissions. I worked in a lot of different spots within the operations department. This is the time when Millie Vessels ran the track. She would always call me ‘honey’ whenever she saw me.”
With an easy going attitude and friendly demeanor, Knuchell would eventually rise to director of operations in the early 1990s, where his responsibilities would include overseeing the parking lot at night, the ticket and program selling booths, and the cross over gates, while also managing the staff.
“In 1992, we were running a Quarter Horse meet at Hollywood Park and the track needed an operations manager. Brad McKinzie asked me if I was interested to go and I said ‘okay’. I went to Hollywood Park and worked there for the late James Smith, who was running the Quarter Horse meet at the time. I’ve stayed on as the operations manager ever since.”
Knuchell has enjoyed seeing many Quarter Horse champions, seen many legendary horsemen and made a lot of friends during his years at Los Alamitos, but they all play second fiddle to the most important moment of his time working at the track.
“By far, the best thing that’s happened to me here is the day I met my wife, Melodie,” he said. “Her brother was a big horseplayer and had a reserve box. Melodie would come out and watch the races with her brother. I was in the upper boxes working as an usher at the time. That’s how we met.”
The two have been a part of Los Alamitos together ever since, with Melodie Knuchell currently handling dual roles as the track’s Director of Simulcasting and Director of Stakes Nominations. Their two children, Jeannie and David, have also spend many evening enjoying the races under the moon and stars at the Orange County track.
“Especially Jeannie,” Knuchell said. “She just loves horses and used to come out here all the time. She even owned several racehorses. She graduated from University of California, Davis and is now a small animal veterinarian. David, meanwhile, is an attorney for a law firm in Long Beach. Melodie and I are incredibly proud of both them.”
After Tuesday afternoon, Knuchell will leave the track parking lot one final time before commencing his retirement – the start of a new chapter that has brought some mixed emotions for this life-long race tracker.
“I’m 65-years-old and I hope to be around a while,” he said with a laugh. “But now is about having time do a few other things that I enjoy. I like to play tennis and golf and really like skiing. I also like to play poker. I’ll still come out to the track as a patron to watch the big futurity trial nights, the big Quarter Horse stakes races and the Thoroughbred daytime meets. I’m not a big traveler so I’ll be around.”
No doubt, Howard’s nightly presence will be missed around Los Alamitos.
“I have nothing but praise for Howard Knuchell,” said Ed Allred, the owner of Los Alamitos Race Course. “I thank him for his many years of dedicated service and wish him a great retirement.”
“Dr. Allred and Los Alamitos Race Course have been so good to my family,” Howard added. “He’s the reason that we still have Los Alamitos and I’m proud to have been a part of this industry for so many years. We have a good team place that will keep Los Alamitos going strong. This is a special track and I’ve made a lot of good friends here during my time.”