Another Track Bites the Dust

Unless one counts the four thoroughbred racetracks that conduct racing on the Northern California fair circuit — the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, Cal Expo in Sacramento, the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale, and the Big Fresno Fair — horse racing died Sunday night in the Bay Area when the Stronach Group announced that 2023 will be the last year that racing will be held at the East Bay's Golden Gate Fields.

This follows, in order, the closure of Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno in 1964, after a mysterious fire destroyed the track while its owners were getting ready to demolish the facility more conventionally (that ubiquitous Boomer mainstay — a shopping mall — was built on the land where the track stood). Next came the demise of Bay Meadows in nearby San Mateo in 2008 — and, in Southern California, Hollywood Park (which, despite its name, was actually located in Inglewood) in 2013, followed by the cessation of racing at Fairplex, in Pomona, in 2014; however, racing action will return to the eastern Los Angeles County venue, site of the L.A. County Fair (hence the name, "Fairplex") in September.

A combination of office buildings and condominiums can be found today where Bay Meadows was — and what was Hollywood Park is now the site of SoFi Stadium, the joint home of the NFL's Rams and Chargers.

Chicago has a similar history of cannibalizing its racetracks: Washington Park, founded in 1883 on the city's South Side and relocated to just south of the city limits in Homewood (though still in Cook County) in 1926, succumbed to a devastating fire in 1977 and never reopened — while Sportsman's Park (not to be confused with the eponymous baseball stadium in St. Louis), which started out as a dog track partly owned by Al Capone in the 1920s, fell by the wayside in 2002. This left Chicago with only two racetracks — Arlington Park and Hawthorne (whose punishing 1,320-foot stretch is the third longest in the U.S., exceeded only by the 1,380-foot stretch at Los Alamitos and the 1,346-foot stretch at the Fair Grounds) — and that became one when Arlington was closed to make way for a new stadium for the Bears to replace the near-century-old Soldier Field.

And wouldn't you know: both Bay Area tracks were owned by Belinda Stronach — in the case of Bay Meadows, via a holding company, Magna Entertainment (the Stronach Group also closed Portland Meadows in 2019 — but we can all thank our lucky stars that they do not also own Seattle's Emerald Downs; the Muckleshoot Indigenous Nation does).

So horse owners, trainers, jockeys, and fans alike know who to blame for not having a racetrack within a seven-hour drive of them if they live in San Francisco and its environs.

It is entirely possible that the Northern California fair circuit will pick up at least some of the slack. Toward that end, the most effective thing that they can do is to install turf courses at their tracks (at present only Cal Expo has one), all but assured that, thanks to the vagaries of California's climate, no races scheduled to be run on the turf will ever have to be moved to the main track because of rain, an issue that has wrought havoc with field sizes so far at this summer's signature meeting at Saratoga despite the iconic track now having an option to run one-mile races on the dirt — and also for the fairs to extend and juggle their schedules so that there can be continuous racing from the Memorial Day weekend through the Labor Day weekend.

But what is the motive for the Stronach Group's cold-blooded murder of West Coast racing?

They are assuming that having as near as makes no difference to only one track on the entire West Coast will result in larger fields in races at Santa Anita, the Stronach Group's flagship track. This is why they recently widened Santa Anita's turf course by 21 feet — and also added a crossover chute for grass races at five and a half furlongs, six furlongs, and six and a half furlongs.

Yet do they really think that the cheap claiming horses who will no longer be able to run in Northern California are going to find suitable races to run in at Santa Anita or Del Mar — or even Los Alamitos?

No — instead, these horses, along with their owners and trainers, will head north to Emerald Downs, or east to Turf Paradise in Arizona, and set up their stables there.

And all this from the same misguided elitist who enthusiastically collaborates with the psychopaths whose goal is the total abolition of horse racing — the knee-jerk radicals of PETA and their ilk.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site