In order to focus on its racing and training venues at Santa Anita Park and San Luis Rey Downs, The Stronach Group will close Golden Gate Fields at the end of its 2023 racing meet, the organization said in a release late on Sunday.
With the goal of increasing field sizes and adding another day of racing to the weekly racing calendar at Santa Anita Park, come Jan. 2024, officials hope this consolidation will serve to further elevate the overall customer experience at Santa Anita Park.
“The Stronach Group remains steadfastly committed to racing in California,” said Belinda Stronach, Chairwoman, Chief Executive Officer and President, The Stronach Group. “We believe that the future success of racing depends on a business model that encourages investment in Southern California, one of North America's premier racing circuits. Focusing on Santa Anita Park and San Luis Rey Downs as state-of-the-art racing and training facilities that offer enhanced program quality, increased race days, expanded wagering opportunities, and premier hospitality and entertainment experiences is vital to ensuring that California racing can continue to compete and thrive on a national level.”
Stronach added, “We recognize that the decision will have profound effects on our valued employees as well as the owners, trainers, jockeys and stable personnel at Golden Gate Fields. The Stronach Group is committed to honoring labor obligations and developing a meaningful transition plan.”
Moving forward, the company will work in cooperation with industry participants including the California Horse Racing Board, Thoroughbred Owners of California, California Thoroughbred Trainers, and Del Mar and Los Alamitos racetracks, to develop a plan to relocate horses and employees to Southern California while supporting all affected by this closure.
The California Horse Racing Board confirmed its commitment to work towards finding the best path forward for California horse racing in a release sent out soon after The Stronach Group's statement.
“Golden Gate Fields has been racing nine months out of the year in Northern California,” said CHRB Executive Director Scott Chaney. “I think it is fair to say that race-date allocations will take on a new meaning when the Board opens discussions in August for 2024 race dates. I am acutely aware of the human impact of the closure–be they CHRB employees, CHRB contractors, licensees, and, of course, Golden Gate employees–and I will be working hard to ameliorate any negative consequences and to create job and role opportunities.”
CHRB Vice Chair Oscar Gonzales, who chairs the CHRB Race Dates Committee, expressed assurance that the GGF workforce and horsemen will be treated with dignity and respect and that there will be an open and transparent process.
“While we await more details and information, Golden Gate stakeholders and Northern California horsemen should know that horse racing will continue,” said Gonzales. “We look forward to receiving and implementing the industry's transition plan. We hope the upcoming CHRB meeting [Aug. 17] and Race Dates Committee meeting [Aug. 16, both in Del Mar] will be an opportunity to share more information with the public.”
Chaney said the possibility of new off-track wagering locations in the East Bay should be part of the ongoing discussions.
Not long after The Stronach Group released its statement, Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, released his own statement.
“Today, we learned with great dismay, fear, and anxiety, on behalf of all California trainers and their thousands of employees, of the Stronach racing company's decision to discontinue racing at Golden Gate Fields later this year,” Balch's statement read. “Were it not for our contractual obligations with Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita management, we would publicly disclose the reasons for our serious trepidation–all of which our CTT leadership has taken the initiative to discuss privately with Stronach management on several occasions, during last year and earlier this year. We can only say that we would have hoped those responsible for such a decision had taken their own contractual obligation for fairness, inclusion, communication, and honesty, as seriously as we have.
“The ramifications of this Stronach decision will be far-reaching and long-lasting. They will include, we believe, a great many unintended and mainly detrimental consequences for all of racing and Thoroughbred breeding throughout California and the West, including in Southern California. We can only hope that we are entirely wrong.”