D-Day for Northern California Horse Racing!

By Dennis Miller

Today – March 21 – may be the biggest day in the storied history of horse racing in Pleasanton.

For that matter it could be the biggest day ever for horse racing in all Northern California.

Thursday, at 9:30 a.m. the California Horse Racing Board will convene its board meeting at Cal Expo in Sacramento. On the agenda for action are the Northern California Horse Racing dates for the rest of 2024.

I wrote most of this column before Tuesday of this week but with what happened Tuesday, I must include the details to provide deeper context as to what is going on in California horse racing.

Today (Thursday) is the day where the racing dates will be decided for the rest of 2024 and undoubtedly set the template moving into 2025.

It was reported Tuesday by respected turf writer John Cherwa in the Los Angeles Times that 1/ST Racing and Gaming, the horse racing managing arm of The Stronach Group (TSG), announced they may sell or close Santa Anita if the California Horse Racing Board authorizes horse racing in Northern California.

Belinda Stronach, the CEO of TSG, is pulling the strings here. She has done nothing but harm the sport of horse racing since strongarming TSG away from her father Frank Stronach.

They have never cared about the racing or the people of racing in Northern California. Princess Belinda may occasionally offer a gesture of support, but the reality is those in the know could see through the facade.

Now just two days before decision day in California when it comes to horse racing, she is throwing a temper-tantrum.

Either give me all the money or I am going to finally destroy horse racing in California. She doesn’t care about horse racing plain and simple.

Honestly, she needs to be put in a corner on a time out! Give her a binkie, a bottle, and blanket.

Now, back to the original column.

With Golden Gate Fields scheduled to shut down for good in June, moving all operations to Southern California, it has been feared for some time that the end of the Fair racing in October at the Big Fresno Fair, would signal the end of racing in the northern half of the state.

The California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF) jumped into action, working on a plan to take all the Golden Gate Fields dates to keep racing up north.

There were various plans that were floated around, including making Cal Expo the hub for racing.

The major problem for Sacramento was having an existing tenant in harness racing, an organization that has two more years under contract at Cal Expo

Enter Pleasanton.

The Northern California combination of owners, trainers, breeders, and CARF have rallied around Pleasanton as being the most viable option.

In short, that would mean following summer fair racing, Pleasanton would start running in September, taking two weeks off for Fresno, the resume until the end of 2024.

The big picture plan is that Pleasanton would then host the racing dates in 2025 from January until the end of the Alameda County Fair meet. After the rest of the summer Fair circuit, racing would return to Pleasanton like it would do in 2024.

In addition, and arguably the biggest part of the deal, the revenue derived from simulcasting – a substantial amount of money – would remain in Northern California.

Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Los Alamitos, along with the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) asked the CHRB to consolidate racing in the south and send all of the NorCal simulcasting revenue to the south.

It’s a power move for sure, spearheaded by 1/ST Racing.

To me, Pleasanton is by far the best option.

I feel we need to rebuild Northern California horse racing from the ground floor up. With an accountable leadership team, which I believe will be done, increasing the number of horses in the north will be possible.

And it will work far better than throwing money at tracks with a record of inefficiency. Instead of hemorrhaging money, it’s time to rebuild.

Pleasanton is very accessible with the Alameda County Fairgrounds sitting at the crossroads of two major freeways. It is also easily accessible to BART and has a train station that stops at the Fairgrounds, which could bring the Central Valley into more attendance.

The charming downtown area is a short walk from the Fairgrounds offering numerous dining and entertainment options without having to move your car.

Pleasanton, and the Tri-Valley have numerous lodging options, and is short drives from two major airports. It is centrally located from the South Bay, West Bay, North Bay, and Central Valley.

You have the Livermore Valley wine country a short drive away, and with big corporations setting up shop in Pleasanton, there could be multiple chances for partnerships formed.

Everything seems to be lining up nicely.

However, I have learned anything in my past 40-plus years in horse racing it is to never expect the right thing to happen.

It’s all about the money to powerbrokers and the fact that the TOC as a major player has already sided with Southern California, it still might be an uphill battle.

People in the CHRB and the TOC have been saying all the right things and have said they are interested to see the plan to run at Pleasanton, but the key phrase has been “if it’s viable, then how could we be opposed to it.”

That word “viable” is what worries me the most as viable to SoCal powers will be vastly different from what it means to NorCal.

Horse racing has been the kind of industry where different organizations seldom work together as the level of trust is almost non-existent.

Let’s hope the CHRB does the right thing Thursday, and we can begin the process of growing the sport of horse racing in Northern California.

The CHRB has a long history of kicking the can down the road and in this case would say, “Let’s see how it goes until the end of the year, then we will make a decision.”

Make the decision and let’s move on. If they want to sell Santa Anita, please do it. Sell it to a group that has the bests interest of horse racing in mind, not their pocketbooks first.

There are people already in place at 1/ST Racing that are good people but are being controlled. Free them up and the entire sport will begin to rebound in California.

There are a lot of wonderful, hard-working people in the Northern California horse racing community. Over my years I have worked with some of the most genuine people in horse racing.

They deserve this and the sport of racing deserves it.

This week in racing

The Kentucky Derby prep races are back in vogue with Saturday featuring the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds, and the Jeff Ruby Steaks race at Turfway Park in Kentucky.

The two are the first of the 100-50-25-15-10-point races. Both races are set for Saturday and can be wagered on at the Pleasanton OTB.

More on these races next week!

Got a question or a comment, get hold of me at [email protected].