Golden Gate Fields has its place in racing history. For 70 years, the track by the bay has stood strong in the annals of racing. William Shoemaker won his first ever race here. Noor and Citation battled down its stretch. Steve Cauthen and Robyn Smith are two renown jockeys that have rode at Golden Gate Fields.
Why am I reminiscing? Because in a matter months, a decision will be made on whether or not Golden Gate Fields will still exist at its current location.
In case you are not aware, the land that the track sits on, is one of six finalist sites chosen by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as a possible new home of its second campus. The main lab is located in the Berkeley hills with various other employees working at scattered sites around the bay area. A second campus would bring all those others together.
The Stronach Group, which owns Golden Gate Fields, put in a bid to be bought and once accepted as a candidate, put together a group to start working on designs for the land that will include lab offices instead of a race track. The Stronach Group has also said on numerous occasions that it is committed to bay area racing and will pursue other nearby options if Golden Gate Fields is demolished.
A decision on which way the Lab is leaning was due last week ,but word came that they have put off their decision until early 2012, to have more time to analyze all the potential sites.
With all the uncertainty about its future, the track opened its 2011 winter meet, under new leadership. Joe Morris took over as general manager, after the resignation of Robert Hartman in August. Two weeks ago, several employees were laid off, including racing secretary Sean Greely. Amid speculation that the track is entering its final home stretch, I sat down with the new G.M for a question and answer session about its future.
Q: With the possibility of the sale going on, does that affect your day to day operations
A: It really doesn’t on the day to day operations. We don’t know what’s going to happen with that, We’re here, and I’m here to run this track as a track, and make it more viable. Some of the cuts are a ways to do that, but we’re also coming up with ways to enhance the experience and to try and get more people to come to the track.
Q: Were the cuts that were just done to some of the personnel any kind of cost cutting moves to make the budget look better either for a sale or in case it isn’t sold?
A: Nothing to do with the sale at all on that. It was all to make the track more viable going into the future. Losing money over the last few years has happened, and its something we are going to stop in 2012.
Q: Do you have any ideas that you are working on to help make the track more viable and to turn it around a little bit?
A: Yes, we’ve got a number of strategies. I’m always one for identifying the challenge and coming up with a strategy to get through the challenge. One of them being, how do we market the place ? The first one I call marketing ourselves to ourselves. Letting the horseman know there are a lot of positives here. We have year round racing. If you look at the level of purses we pay out on an annual basis, we’d probably be a top ten track - on a yearly basis. We have the all time leading jockey, we have hall of fame trainers, we’ve got no rent for a backstretch… its free stabling, we have the tapeta surface that is very kind on horses and a great turf course but a lot of that gets lost because we race year round. We don’t so much have a shortage of horses here as a shortage of owners.
One program we just put in, I call the Parella Program because Pete Parella gave me the idea. When the races are drawn now, we have a person that calls the owners, thanks them for being part of it and we ask, “Will you be coming to the races, can we get you any passes or reservations”. The last three weekends we have doubled our normal horseman reservations in the dining area. We cant be the best at somethings, but as far as treating our owners, we can be the best.
Q: Whether the sale goes through to the lab or not, is Golden Gate Fields on its last legs?
A: No I think just the opposite. I think this place is positioned on many fronts to have a revival. It’s a neat place. the view is spectacular the surface is good. The state needs racing in the north, and this is the anchor to all of the racing in the north. It has one of the best attitude and more capable staffs I’ve seen than any place I’ve ever worked. The economy I think is ready to turn around. I think your going to start to see some growth here. I don’t do well with the “what ifs” , so I’m here to run the track as a viable Stronach race track and that’s what we are going to do. We’re here, we’re open, we’re relevant and we have a great product. I think we are well positioned on a number of fronts to be at the right place at the right time for a turn around.
Alvarado On Fire: Jockey Frank Alvarado wanted to make sure the public knew that the big three in the jockey standings (Russell Baze 36 wins, Kevin Krigger 25, Aaron Gryder 24) was now the big 4. Alvarado won nine races over the past four days bringing his win total to 22.