After 83 Years, the Curtain Comes Down at Golden Gate Fields

Golden Gate Fields | Vassar Photography

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Let the record show that the very first horse to win a race at Golden Gate Fields was a mare named Skookumchuck, who won the inaugural race on Feb.1, 1941 before a crowd of 30,000. The last horse to win a race there was Adelie (Ire) (Ardad {Ire}), who got to the wire first in Sunday's eighth, the last race ever at a track.

In between, there was a lot of history, a lot of memories…Citation, Russell Baze, Lost in the Fog, Noor. That's history that cannot be erased, but it will surely start to wither away as Golden Gate, the latest track where it did not make economical sense to keep going, ran for the final time Sunday.

Bay area racing fans said a fond goodbye Sunday. The place was so crowded they had to find extra parking spaces to accommodate the crowds and before the first race, people were lined up around the grandstand waiting to get in.

Golden Gate was never what Santa Anita, Del Mar and Hollywood Park were, but for 83 years, it has served its purpose, giving Bay Area gamblers a place to play among a beautiful setting by the San Francisco Bay and a place for the horses that just couldn't make it in Southern California to go.

But Golden Gate, which was purchased by Magna Entertainment, the predecessor of The Stronach Group, in 1999, had been struggling for years. With nothing in the way of casino or slot money to support the purses, horses were running for paltry pots, which created horse shortage problems. On the penultimate day of racing, they ran just seven races that attracted 43 starters. That's a gambling product that appeals to absolutely no one. So handle keep declining and fields kept getting smaller. It was a never-ending cycle.

“I'm more disgusted with the way things went there,” said trainer Ed Moger, who has trained at the Northern California tracks for 47 years. “Things could be viable, but things weren't done the right way. Everyone was fighting against us, from the TOC, the CHRB to the racetrack itself. Nothing was going good for them.”

Moger won the sixth race with Dad's Jubilee (Dads Cap), but was nowhere to be found at Golden Gate Sunday. He has moved 15 horses to Kentucky and plans to race there year-round.

“We've been racing here for so many years,” said trainer Steve Sherman. “I grew up here and now to see that this place is closing down, it's kind of a drag. I'm a little sad and a little angry. This is a great racetrack. It's just a shame that people here couldn't get together and find a way to make things work.”

Sherman will be taking his horses to Pleasanton, which is part of the Northern California fair circuit. The hope among local horsemen is that the fair tracks will start running longer meets and will give Northern California trainers a place to run throughout much of the year. No one seems quite sure if that is going to work.

“They're going to make a run at it,” Sherman said. “People are at least enthusiastic about it. They have a race office that knows what they need to do. I'm really hoping it works. All of California needs this. They need a circuit in the North to keep owners in the game. Will this work? I hope so. That's all we can do is hope.”

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