By Bill Finley
The four protestors who disrupted a card at Golden Gate Fields were arrested at 6:30 p.m. (Pacific Time) on Thursday without incident and were released after being cited for trespassing, according to Isabelle Leduc, the assistant city manager for the town of Albany, California.
Leduc identified the individuals as Omar Aicardi (43) of Modesto, Rocky Ming Fan Chau (32) of San Francisco, James Nicholas Crom (29) of Oakland and Rachel Christina Ziegler (28) .
The four, members of the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, scaled a fence before the first race and then lay down on the track on the far turn. They locked themselves together with heavy, interlocking pipes over their arms. The pipes made it very difficult for police and security personnel to remove them from the track.
Golden Gate management canceled the first race, scheduled for 12:45 Pacific time, but waited out the protest and eventually ran the remaining six races under lights. The card resumed at 7:28 p.m. and finished just after 9:30 p.m. The total handle was $619,349.
Matt Johnson, a spokesperson for the group, said the four ended their protest voluntarily, about six hours after it began.
“They were sunburnt and it had been a long day,” he said. “It was a question of how much longer they wanted to be doing this. We decided we were at our end point. I don't know what the police prospects would have been when it comes to cutting through those pipes. It would have been very difficult.”
Representatives of the group had said their goals included disrupting the entire card Thursday, which didn't happen.
“We were trying to shut them down, in the immediate term, the medium term and the long term,” Johnson said. “This wasn't the goal we were looking for. They knew they might try to fit in some races during the night, but those people were uncomfortable.”
Despite being unable to halt Thursday's card all together, Johnson said the protest achieved the group's goals.
“Overall, I would say we were successful,” he said. “This reached a lot of people and the public sentiment is very much moving against this industry. We think as a general matter, by getting more exposure to this subject and doing something the general public is inclined to support, that is going to be a good thing. That is pretty much what we were going for.”
The group said it was inclined to act when it did because of a recent rash of breakdowns at Golden Gate Fields. According to a Feb. 23 report from the Associated Press, five horses have died at the track in 2021. According to the television station KTVU, three horses died at Golden Gate between Feb. 20 and 25.
Johnson said the group had no immediate plans to lodge another protest, but added that it will stay on top of the situation. Direct Action Everywhere has said its goals include a nationwide ban of horse racing.
The ripple effects from events at Golden Gate Friday aren't restricted to the north of the state, with eyes now turning to Santa Anita, which cards a huge weekend of racing top-lined by Saturday's G1 $400,000 Santa Anita H.
Nate Newby, Santa Anita's general manager, said that he was unable to provide specifics about any beefed-up security team, but added that the track has “increased our security presence” for this weekend and has been “in touch” with the local Arcadia police department.
Golden Gate posted several statements on Twitter about the incidents.
“Golden Gate Fields is committed to the safety of the horses and the people who care for them, and the types of actions exhibited today run directly counter to the safe environment we are trying to create.
“Thoroughbred horse racing is a highly regulated, legal sport. Trespassing and endangering others are completely inappropriate and illegal methods to express opposition to the sport.”
When the activists first lay down on the track, they set off purple smoke flares, presumably to alert the track, the harrows, and the field for the first race that they were there.
“Further,” said the statement from Golden Gate, “bringing incendiary devices onto the property is inherently dangerous to human life, the more than 1,200 horses stabled here and the hundreds of people who care for them. This behavior will not be tolerated. We encourage those responsible to find an appropriate way to air their grievances rather than endangering the lives of thousands, including the horses they claim to want to protect.”
After the second race went off, the track Tweeted, “We are grateful for the support of racing fans in the Bay Area and around the globe. A special acknowledgement is due the Albany Police Department for their professionalism and responsiveness. We were able to race tonight thanks to them and we continue to believe in our commitment to safety, the beauty and greatness of our sport and the right of thousands of Californians to enjoy what we regard as a treasure. We would like to thank all the owners, trainers, grooms and our dedicated employees at Golden Gate Fields for their commitment and patience under extremely trying circumstances today.”
Additional reporting by Dan Ross.