Golden Gate Fields Bay Area Race Track to Close, Consolidating California Horse Racing
In a significant development for the horse racing industry in California, The Stronach Group has announced that it is to close its historic Berkeley racing track, Golden Gate Fields, after its final 2023 race meet in December.
This company says it plans to consolidate its efforts in Southern California, focusing on the prestigious racing and training venues at Santa Anita Park and San Luis Rey Downs.
The San Francisco Bay Area racetrack has been open since 1941, and has been featured in iconic California books and movies.
“The Stronach Group remains steadfastly committed to racing in California,” said Belinda Stronach, chairwoman, CEO and president, The Stronach Group, in a company statement.
“We believe that the future success of racing depends on a business model that encourages investment in Southern California, one of North America’s premier racing circuits.”
The Stronach Group, a technology, entertainment, and real estate development company with thoroughbred racing and pari-mutuel wagering at its core, plans to transition horses, teams, and infrastructure from Northern California to Southern California.
The goal is to increase field sizes and add another day of racing to the weekly racing calendar at Santa Anita Park, starting in January 2024.
“Focusing on Santa Anita Park and San Luis Rey Downs as state-of-the-art racing and training facilities that offer enhanced program quality, increased race days, expanded wagering opportunities, and premier hospitality and entertainment experiences is vital to ensuring that California racing can continue to compete and thrive on a national level,” said Stronach.
The decision to close Golden Gate Fields will have profound effects on the employees, owners, trainers, jockeys, and stable personnel who have been part of the track’s community.
The Stronach Group has committed to honoring obligations and developing a meaningful transition plan.
The company will work in cooperation with industry participants to develop a plan to relocate horses and employees to Southern California, while supporting all those affected by this closure. That includes the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), industry groups Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers, and also the Del Mar and Los Alamitos racetracks.
End of an Ara
The closure of Golden Gate Fields marks the end of an era in California’s sports landscape.
The region has had horse racing since 1934, when Bay Meadows opened. That closed in 2008.
Golden Gate Fields, which opened in 1941, has meets scheduled for Aug. 23 to Oct. 3 and Oct. 18 to Dec. 19.
The 1948 Triple Crown Winner, Citation, was a regular competitor at the Fields. More recently, it stabled double Breeder’s Cup winner Lost in the Fog, who died of lymphoma and was buried at the racetrack in 2005.
It has been recognized in film and literature over its 70-year lifespan, including appearances in the 1997 Eddie Murphy movie Metro and in Jack Kerouac’s iconic 1957 novel, On the Road.
While it may seem logical that many of the Golden Gate horses will move south, the California fair circuit, which includes Ferndale, Fresno, Pleasanton, Sacramento, and Santa Rosa, will be making a strong pitch to keep the horses in the north.
“I am acutely aware of the human impact of the closure — be they CHRB employees, CHRB contractors, licensees, and, of course, Golden Gate employees — and I will be working hard to ameliorate any negative consequences and to create job and role opportunities,” said CHRB director Scott Chaney.
However, some horse racing industry members were not so confident.
“The ramifications of this Stronach decision will be far-reaching and long-lasting,” said Alan Balch, executive director of trade group California Thoroughbred Trainers, as reported by Associated Press.
He also warned of “a great many unintended and mainly detrimental consequences for all of racing and thoroughbred breeding throughout California and the West, including in Southern California.”
It is clear that regardless of opinions, Stronach Group’s decision to close Golden Gate Fields and consolidate its operations in Southern California is a historic shift in the landscape of horse racing in the state.
The move comes at a challenging time for U.S. horse racing, with Kentucky Derby racetrack Churchill Downs suspending racing for the season after several horse deaths, and the continuing saga of high profile trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from Kentucky racing.