Race of the Week 2017

The Future of Golden Gate Fields

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.


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Older Comments about The Future of Golden Gate Fields...

CO-OPERATION and not head to head winner take all competitiio is what could save some of the tracks in trouble. I have seen cooperation save racing at Woodbine....It can be done
The great culling is upon us. Aqueduct may be gone soon, Monmouth and several other major venues like Fort Erie and several smaller West Coast ovals. Emerlad is in trouble as many others
Hope it turns around. We need MORE tracks, not fewer. Ellis Park in Henderson Ky has had trouble and was closed and has opened back up with a limited schedule! Save the smaller tracks! derbydeals.com
saw Kissib Geroge come back there in a claimer at ten and was still quick http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kissin%27_George
I loved old Todd Creed calling the horse Mynameissue, How do you do!!
Great article Don. Like the Q and A with new GM Joe Morris and he seems positive for the outcome of racing in northern California. I couldn't imagine the current site of GGF being taken over by some lab. I and I know you have had some great memories there growing up especially those early days going with dad as a young kid. Would be odd looking looking towards to the bay driving on I-80 and not seeing the track. Interested in the outcome of this one and the future of the historical track called Golden Gate Fields. Look forward to your future articles tracking this.
Northern Cal circuit used to be a lot of fun with GGF in the Spring, the fairs all summer and Bay Meadows in the Fall Before the Winter Hollywood meet, many of the big ones like Pincay, wuld come up to Bay Medows to ride or two or three weeks Bay Meadows had standarbreds and quarter horses as well as the thoroughbreds...A grand old facility I will miss
If GGF is lost, i will do many updates on bay area racing
I hope you are right bay area.
in the immediate bay area, pleasanton is the alternative. it would have to put in a turf course, fix up the stands, put in a turf club, widen the dirt course.
this was anticipated when the grass course was put in at Santa Rosa
I think they will try and keep racing in Nor Cal Buck, there are too many horseman here to chase them all away. Ryan you are right it is a beautiful track but nowhere near star venue.
built on an old native burial ground accorinding to the good book Laughing in the Hills
I am always sad when a racetrack, any racetrack goes down. Some people on this site hate Hollywood Park. But it will be developed. Like Golden Gate it has a long history. Look at Narragansett, gone and so is racing in Rhode Island. Bay Meadows is gone, soon Hollywood Park and now possibly Golden Gate. Personally, I don't believe Stronach is going to pursue another track in the bay area, look at what he is doing in Maryland. Get rid of Laurel and only race 41 days at Pimlico. Prior to that it was he would a new track and get rid of Pimlico too. Anyone who relies on Stronach's word is crazy.
I would love to visit this beautiful track sometime. It seems so big, and kind to the horsemen and fans. Don't know if it's suitable for a Breeders Cup, but it would be a great venue and are to have it at.
Thanks. If this happens they are talking about the lab being there in 2016. We arent sure when racing would stop at GGF but that gives plenty of time to make other plans. Talks about using Pleasanton and Santa Rosa as sites for full meets have been discussed but work would have to be done at both places prior to that.
Great article! Are they already looking for other sites in the SF area if GGF is sold? If so, do you think there will be any gaps in the racing schedule up there or will the county fairs fill in the gap?

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