Upbeat Outlook For Pleasanton As NorCal Hub Shifts Away From Closing Golden Gate

Pleasanton Mile S. | Vassar Photography

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As California begins transitioning the hub of the state's Northern circuit from the permanently closing Golden Gate Fields (June 9) to Pleasanton (June 12-July 9 and Oct. 16-Dec. 25, with other county fair meets running in between), the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) on Thursday greenlit the first meet in the expanded NorCal schedule after hearing an optimistic update from Larry Swartzlander, the executive director for the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF).

“What I'm really enthused about is the fact that we have 1,150 stall applications, which is 200 more than we had last year,” Swartzlander said. “It's a good picture, and right now we're putting up new stalls [and] we're looking at 1,100 horses already coming by the end of the summer, so it's very positive in that vein. I feel very comfortable with that. We always want to have [horse population around] 700-750, and I think this year we'll make it.”

Swartzlander explained that even as additional stalls are getting built at Pleasanton, CARF will utilize auxiliary stabling at Cal Expo to accommodate overflow.

Average daily purses for 13 dates of racing at the first Pleasanton meet will be $160,000, Swartzlander said, terming that figure “a little bit less” than last year's comparable level of “about $170,000.”

Golden Gate Fields | Shane Micheli, Vassar Photography

Swartzlander told the CHRB of a recent recruitment trip he made to Turf Paradise in Arizona “to get the temperature of the owners and trainers on the backside” about competing in NorCal.

“This year we do have quite a few [California-based] owners and trainers over there, because this year [Turf Paradise] made an agreement with the state on sports wagering,” Swartzlander said. “They received a significant amount of money for purses. So the purses actually were better than they were at Golden Gate.

“But that will not be true with this [recently announced] three-year [Turf Paradise contract] extension,” Swartzlander said. “That money will no longer exist. They'll go back to the purse level that they had, which was probably 20 to 30% less than we have here on the fairs.

“Do I look at them as competition?”  Swartzlander asked rhetorically. “You know, they run through May and then shut down for the [California] fair meets. Then no, they're not any competition. We get a lot of these owners and trainers to come, and based on our recruitment over there, we did get two or three new trainers that have 50-60 horses in their stables that are coming over this year.”

“And they like what they see is going on in the North,” Swartzlander summed up. “They see some stability. They see that we're going to take over racing. They've raced on the fairs before. They have trust in what we do, and I think it's going to be great.”

Beyond polite prodding from commissioners about the stabling and purse details, no regulators or stakeholders voiced objections to or major concerns with Swartzlander's assessment of the situation.

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