It’s the end of an era for Northern California horse racing.
Golden Gate Fields will permanently close after its final racing date later this year at the San Francisco Bay area horse track.
The track’s owner, The Stronach Group, said Sunday it will “double down” on its racing at Santa Anita and training at San Luis Rey Downs in Southern California.
After the Golden Gate Fields meet ends, The Stronach Group said it will focus on moving horses from the Bay Area to Arcadia, with a goal of increasing field sizes and adding a fourth day of racing to the weekly schedule at Santa Anita beginning in January.
“The Stronach Group remains steadfastly committed to racing in California,” company CEO and president Belinda Stronach said in a statement.
“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,” she said.
Stronach said the company realizes its decision to close the Bay Area track will have “profound effects” on employees, owners, trainers, jockeys and stable workers there. She said the company is committed to honoring labor obligations.
The company said it would work with industry groups in California, as well as Los Alamitos racetrack in Orange County and Del Mar north of San Diego in relocating horses and employees to Southern California.
“The ramifications of this Stronach decision will be far-reaching and long-lasting,” Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said in a statement. “They will include, we believe, a great many unintended and mainly detrimental consequences for all of racing and Thoroughbred breeding throughout California and the West, including in Southern California. We can only hope that we are entirely wrong.”
Scott Chaney, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, noted that Golden Gate Fields has been racing nine months out of the year and the board will begin discussing allocating those racing dates in August for 2024.
“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,” Chaney said.
The Stronach Group purchased the track in 2011.
Golden Gate Fields, which straddles the cities of Albany and Berkeley along the shore of the San Francisco Bay, opened in 1941.
With the start of World War II, the U.S. Navy took over the property for storage of landing craft that was to be used in the Pacific theater. After the war ended, racing returned to the site.
Among the horses that competed at Golden Gate Fields was 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation, John Henry, Shared Belief, and come-from-behind specialist Silky Sullivan, who is buried in the track’s infield.
The track was immortalized in book and movie form. In Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel “On the Road,” Sal Paradise visits the track with his friend, who loses all their money.
In the 1997 movie “Metro” starring Eddie Murphy, his character visits the track to gamble and blames jockey Russell Baze for losing his money.
Retired Hall of Famer Baze won his 10,000th career race at Golden Gate Fields in 2008. He earned 54 riding titles and won 5,765 races there during his career.
The closure will leave Northern California without a major racetrack. Bay Meadows, which opened in 1934, shut down and was turned over to developers in 2008.