Senator Dianne Feinstein (or one of her aides) penned a letter this week to the owners of Golden Gate Fields, the 80-year-old horse racing track on the Berkeley-Albany border that announced its closure last week. The Senator says she is seeking "clarification" on the transition plans for the racetrack and the property.
The abrupt announcement came on Sunday, July 16, with owners The Stronach Group saying the closure was intended to help them focus more on two other tracks they own in Southern California. The closure, which they said would occur after the end of this racing season in early October, is going to impact about 1,000 horses, those horses' owners, and around 500 track employees — 300 of whom live onsite.
The California Thoroughbred Trainers association put out a statement last week saying that the closure would have "a great many unintended and mainly detrimental consequences for all of racing and Thoroughbred breeding throughout California and the West."
In the letter this week, obtained by the Chronicle and addressed to Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group, Senator Feinstein said she is "seeking clarification of your transition plans, including disposition of the land and stadium." The senator further said she is looking for more details on the "rationale" for the closure, and details on how laid off employees will be helped to find other work.
Golden Gate Fields sits on a massive piece of bayfront property totaling 140 acres. Quickly on the heels of the closure announcement, chatter began among local politicians and others about what the potential reuses of the property could be — and certainly everyone is dying to know how much they're going to want for it.
Former House Rep. Jackie Speier, who oversaw the redevelopment of the former Bay Meadows track in her district of San Mateo County over a decade ago, called the news of the track closure a "gift from the gods" in terms of the development opportunity. "It's really a blank canvas that can be made into something pretty spectacular," she said last week, speaking on ABC 7 — where she's now a political correspondent.
But for track employees, trainers, and horse owners, this is a major loss, leaving Northern California without a racetrack for the first time in nearly a century. And for the 1,000 horses that race at Golden Gates Fields, the Chronicle reports via some local trainers that they'll likely be "out of work" too — with most not qualified enough to race at Santa Anita, one of the other tracks Stronach Group owns, where they plan to expand with an extra weekly race day.
That's good news, say animal rights activists, who for years have protested the treatment of racehorses at Golden Gate Fields.
Top image: Golden Gate Fields horse racing track on the edge of the San Francisco Bay in Albany, California, with Interstate 580 freeway in foreground, January 8, 2019. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)