As the sole racetrack in Northern California since the closure of Bay Meadows in 2008, the news of Golden Gate Fields racetrack’s imminent closure has shaken the racing community.
The Stronach Group who own the track have gone to lengths to appease race fans and ensure Californian horse racing is not negatively impacted. However, there are fears for those involved in the industry.
The Golden Gate Fields racetrack dates back to 1941 and is located between Berkeley and Albany. The fascinating history of the race track includes being commandeered by the U.S. Navy during World War II. The track was used to help the war effort by storing landing craft that were used in the Pacific.
Following the war, the track went back to its original purpose and has featured a regular racing card ever since. The course even featured in one of the most famous books in American literature, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
With such a rich history and over 430 regular employees, the closure is set to have a dramatic impact on racing in the area. Not only will the closure affect workers directly involved with the course, but it will also affect stables, trainers, jockeys, and other local businesses that rely on the regular meetings held there.
However, The Stronach Group is not completely cutting off all services, instead, it is planning to move a lot of the Northern Californian operations to their other venues including San Luis Rey Downs and Santa Anita Park in Southern California.
The closure is set to take place after the 2023 season ends and many workers and handlers will have to wait and see if they are able to transfer to these alternative locations. Of course, this will mean relocation for many which is also a big ask.
The plan to shift operations to Southern California should allow the opportunity for an expansion of current operations. This will include an additional day of racing at Santa Anita from January and increased field sizes.
As well as impacting workers and race fans, the closure will have a significant effect on the current California gambling landscape. With a shift towards online gambling, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many in the horse racing industry are looking to the future.
Despite slight growth since 2019, the horse racing track industry is still well below the figures seen prior to the lockdown. The market size dropped from $5.25bn in 2018 to $3.44bn in 2020. A slight rise to $3.68bn by 2022 shows that there is still life in the industry, but consolidating assets and focusing on fewer locations looks to be an option that other race track operators might follow soon.
The California Horse Racing Board has also issued a statement underlining their commitment to supporting the racing community in California with Scott Chaney, Executive Director of CHRB also mentioning the possibility of “new off-track wagering locations.”
Racing fans are said to be disappointed by the plans with Golden Gate Fields. Decades of history and an incredible view of San Francisco Bay and its bridges will become a thing of the past for racegoers. What will become of this prime real estate is currently unknown, but the potential to sell and reinvest in existing racing facilities could help to improve the racing experience and consolidate operations for a number of years.
The news of the closure has pleased some, including animal rights activists who have long been campaigning for the closure of this, and many other race tracks due to the impact it has on the horses competing.
The final race day is at the historic Golden Gate Fields and is due to take place on the 18th of December, 2023. It is sure to have a big turnout as racing fans say goodbye to an American institution and welcome the new phase of the horse racing industry.