Thoughts on the Golden Gate Fields News

What California racing experienced on the afternoon of July 16, 2023 was nothing short of earth-shattering.

It was news hardly anyone expected to hear that day, and it instantly changed the lives of countless individuals in the state.

The news was that Golden Gate Fields is scheduled to hold its last meet later this year before shutting down in December.

The timing of this was also rather eerie due to the fact it came around the ten year anniversary of Hollywood Park's final spring/summer meet. And December will be a decade since the last race at the Track of the Lakes and Flowers. It was a stark reminder of what Southern California racing experienced back in 2013, and Northern California racing knows this feeling due to Bay Meadows closing in 2008.

In the present, the announcement made by the Stronach Group (which was a scramble after the LA Times broke the story) came out of nowhere. In several articles published by major racing news websites, the consensus was that no one in the North expected to hear this bombshell. Even the California Horse Racing Board was caught off guard as it got wind of the news by a third party.

So, what does this mean?

It means that the Stronach Group has really cast itself in a bad light.

To begin with, the lack of consideration for the people who work at Golden Gate Fields is simply appalling. And for the backstretch workers, not even giving a remote warning about the possibility of them losing their literal home is abhorrent. And as someone in the industry pointed out, Golden Gate Fields is scheduled to shut down during the holidays. That is months away, and no one working there is looking forward to such a festive time of year because of this terrible news.

What's also troubling is the Stronach Group's belief that many horses and trainers will move down South. Their projections are likely overoptimistic, as several figures in California racing, including trainers based up North, have estimated somewhere between ten to fifteen percent of the horses are good enough to compete on the tougher Southern California circuit.

The Stronach Group’s thought process appears to be addition by subtraction. But this is math that simply does not add up.

Given what the Northern California horsemen, owners and fans online have said, it is obvious that the Stronach Group does not understand the ramifications of this decision. Its belief that it will significantly bolster field size in Southern California is dubious, as is the belief that those at Golden Gate Fields will all move across the state. Many will likely go to Emerald Downs in Washington State or Hastings in Canada. Or perhaps get out of the sport altogether.

Also not taken into account is what this means for California breeding. It has been said by more than one person that this will not help the farms and will not make the state's breeding program stronger. Rather, it will contract. And that is the last thing that needs to happen with California breeding. Again, addition by subtraction is not coming up with a good solution.

In short, this decision by the Stronach Group is setting up a horrible domino effect that is already reverberating throughout the state.

And not forgotten in all of this is the fact that multiple people connected with Northern California racing have stated that the drainage at Golden Gate Fields was not fixed last winter although the track was closed for repairs. Nor was the Tapeta surface redone despite that being the recommended course of action. Where are the answers to those questions?

And questions is exactly what we all had beginning on July 16. Outside of the announcement from the Stronach Group, we were met with silence. That all changed on July 28 with the conference call detailing the more than $30 million being spent to consolidate operations in Southern California, but even that had its clunky moments.

First, there should be much more than a million dollars set aside to help those at Golden Gate Fields as well as the California breeding program. Second, it did not go unnoticed that the conference call happened one day after Senator Dianne Feinstein's office sent a letter demanding the Stronach Group clarify its plans along with the news that the Stronach Group is linked to investing in a Major League Soccer team.

The lack of transparency over those nearly two weeks was bad enough. But thinking about it now, the conference call really had that vibe of having to do it because of outside factors as opposed to doing it because it was the right thing to do (and that it was overdue).

So, what does this all mean? Simply put, the Stronach Group did not do itself any favors these last couple of weeks. And it is not a stretch to say that many are skeptical about its more than $30 million plan for California racing. And as one well known racing figure asked this weekend on the radio, where is the money coming from to achieve these plans?

Along with not being transparent to those up North, remember this: back in 2019 when Santa Anita was in the news, Belinda Stronach invited PETA to be a part of the discussion for safety reforms. And we all know PETA is no friend to Thoroughbred racing.

As we continue on into summer, two things are clear. First, the Stronach Group has embarrassed itself with its recent behavior and lack of compassion for those up North.

And the second? We must unite to make positive change happen.

Published by Support California Horse Racing on August 4, 2023.