Golden Gate Fields, which is the only thoroughbred horse-racing track in Northern California, is set to close at the end of this racing season, with the owner saying that it will shift its priorities to its other racetracks.
Business maybe has not been booming for Golden Gate Fields, the Berkeley/Albany racetrack which for a number of years has been the subject of animal-rights protests following a spate of horse deaths. And now the track's owner, The Stronach Group, says it will be shutting down all operations after the last racing day of this season, which is Monday, October 2. The company will, instead, focus on its other California racetracks, Santa Anita Park and San Luis Rey Downs.
"The Stronach Group remains steadfastly committed to racing in California,” says company CEO and president Belinda Stronach in a statement to the Associated Press. "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."
The company says it plans to add a fourth weekly racing day to the schedule at Santa Anita starting in January.
The company's statement also acknowledged the "profound effects" this closure will have on track employees, trainers, jockeys, and horse owners, and it says it will work with industry groups to help find job placements for employees, and new homes for horses. These may include Los Alamitos racetrack in Orange County and Del Mar near San Diego.
A statement by the California Thoroughbred Trainers association warned of "a great many unintended and mainly detrimental consequences for all of racing and Thoroughbred breeding throughout California and the West" as a result of this track closure decision.
The Stronach Group has owned the track since 2011.
With the closure of Bay Meadows in San Mateo in 2008, Golden Gate Fields became the only racetrack in Northern California, operating nine months out of the year from spring to early fall. Golden Gate Fields has been in operation since 1941, though the property was commandeered for military use during World War II.
The track's Wikipedia page notes that a crime scene was staged there for the 1941 film Shadow of the Thin Man. And the AP notes that Jack Kerouac's On the Road includes a scene at Golden Gate Fields, and 1997's Metro, the SF-set film starring Eddie Murphy, also features a scene at the track.
The racetrack was also notably the site of a major COVID outbreak in late 2020, when some 200 employees were infected. The property was later used as a mass-vaccination site in the spring of 2021.
As the AP notes, Golden Gate Fields is the final resting place of famed come-from-behind specialist Silky Sullivan, a horse who died at age 22 in 1977, and is buried in the track's infield.
"It's a bummer, it's a bummer. Pretty sad. It's always been a place that I've loved going," says racing fan Lee Siegel, speaking to ABC 7. "They used to say that the bathroom at Golden Gate Fields had the best view in the Bay Area 'cause it was spectacular."
But animal-rights group Stop Blood Sports is taking credit for the track's closure, with the group's Samantha Faye telling ABC 7, "Today I'm thinking about the horses. I'm thinking about all the horses that went through the confinement at Golden Gate Fields that we were actively trying to eliminate. I'm thinking about all of the horses that died at Golden Gate Fields before we were able to shut this place down."
Top photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images