Photo: Don August
As a blogger and now jockey agent at Golden Gate Fields, I, as well as anybody, have a vested interest in the future of Golden Gate Fields. As many long time racing fans know, GGF is well past its prime. In its glory days, the track was filled every Saturday. As the years have gone on and racing has began to decline, more empty seats are visible than filled ones. To be fair, GGF is not the only track suffering from this problem. Lack of horses, owners and fans have led many to wonder will there be Bay Area racing over the next five years.
As I walk through the grandstand each week, I'm an easy target for people that know me.
"I hear there will be no more concerts? Do you know why?"
"This is pitiful, nobody comes here anymore. Do they not care?"
"I remember when it used to be fun to come to the track, now it's depressing."
I hear a multitude of comments and questions on a daily basis. They always think I have the answer they want to hear, but usually I'm at a loss to have the right response. I felt it was time to ask the people that know. What does the future of Golden Gate Fields look like? Are we going to have a good summer? Will we still be racing in 2016?
I sent an email to the GGF owners, the Stronach Group asking for a contact person. I was contacted through email a few days later by Tom Ludt, Senior Vice President of Racing and Gaming for the Group. He said he'd be happy to answer my questions. I wanted to run a Q & A format so I emailed him 10 questions and awaited a response. During the time he had the questions, Mr. Ludt was named the president of Santa Anita Race Track. The answers took a little longer to come back than I had hoped, but with Mr. Ludt's promotion, it was understood.
A few days ago I got the answers back. So, with no further delay, here are my questions and his answers word for word.
BAB: Currently, Golden Gate Fields has decreased its marketing department. The Marketing director has been moved to Santa Anita and will oversee GGF marketing from there. Word has it, the track has no plans for the summer concert series or wiener dog races. Free pass and voucher enticements do not go out in the mail anymore and commercials on the television and radio are no longer there to reach the fans. How should patrons at GGF react to these issues?
TL : We are planning for the long term future and by moving our marketing director to Santa Anita, we have centralized our marketing operations and strengthened the Golden Gate Fields marketing department. We now have a larger marketing team that can work together in coordinating a strategic marketing plan for both Golden Gate and Santa Anita. This team will be key in creating forward thinking strategies and we look forward to future plans.
BAB: The horse population is down at the track, which has led to very small fields for the past few months. Does the track plan on running any enticements for getting more horses in the barns?
TL: March has been a challenging month for many years. Our new racing secretary is going to evaluate circumstances and we will do all we can to have a good Spring/Summer meet.
BAB: What are the long term plans for GGF? Are plans being made for racing dates beyond 2015?
TL: There are plans getting prepared to begin some renovations to our Turf Club and create a “new” reasons to come out to Golden Gate. A new admission policy and new renovated spaces are in the works to make Golden Gate better in 2014, 2015 and beyond.
BAB: With all of the Southern California tracks going to dirt, is there any talk of GGF replacing the tapeta with dirt?
TL: We are happy with the tapeta surface and see no reason at this time to not continue with our current track plans. Although some tracks are pulling out of these surfaces, we think part of this move is due to race dates and geographical reasons. The tapeta surface works well at Golden Gate Fields with its location and weather conditions.
BAB: Tracks with high purse structures are helped by casinos in many areas. Are there any plans to increase the purse structure at GGF?
TL: Maintaining our purse structure is vital to the success of Golden Gate Fields as well as the horsemen who race their horses here. We are trying to create a better handle structure that will enhance our purses thus attracting more horses and owners interested in racing at Golden Gate Fields.
BAB: In December, Los Alamitos will be running a thoroughbred meet that they say will feature high purses. IS there a concern this will take horses from GGF?
TL: We will continue to make efforts for Golden Gate Fields to be an attractive track for our horses, trainers and owners. We have a long meet and we need to work hard to provide a facility and meet for our customers.
BAB: Are any plans being made to improve the looks of the barn area such as painting, cleaning, etc.
TL: There will be a continuation to work on creating a budget that works on providing money to work on all of the facility challenges.
BAB: When General Manager Joe Morris left, he was not replaced. With the marketing director being moved, these seem like cost cutting moves. Are these signs that the track is in financial trouble?
TL: We are developing strategies to formulate a plan and vision that generates future growth at Golden Gate Fields and to assure that current generations have a good facility for all their needs. I’ll have a more consistent presence there as well in the future.
BAB: Many people views these issues as signs that the tracks ownership does not care what happens at GGF. The last big news regarding the track was in 2011 when the track site was put up as a bid to sell the property to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. What does the Stronach group have planned for GGF that the fans need to know?
TL: The Stronach Group is going through a complete evaluation and making plans for the long-term. As with Santa Anita, we want Golden Gate to be a facility that drives on track attendance. Planning and changes need to be made and all of this takes time. Our steps made at Gulfstream and Santa Anita Park show we are investing in our facilities and making a serious investment in improving the on track experience. These changes are expensive and take time. Through Xpressbet, HRTV and our tracks, we are very committed to serving our players, owners and all customers. Patience is needed at times but we have a lot.
So there you have it. I must note that two days after I got the answers, GGF media got an email laying out this summer's plans and it did include the Summer Concert Series and Weiner Dog races, even though it wasn't outlined in the interview.
Did the answers go far enough to address your questions? Do you feel better or worse about the situation? Only time will tell what the future holds for GGF and I'm sure after reading the answers in the interview, many more questions will be proposed.