It appears the Northern California Fairs may be able to save some racing dates this summer, although the likelihood will be, they run with no fans allowed.

With all the Fairs canceled this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been speculation and conjuncture about whether Golden Gate Fields, which has been running a successful meet without fans, would gobble up those dates that have belonged to the Fairs.

Racing dates are guaranteed each year and the respective meets must go before the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) to receive their racing dates. Historically speaking, once dates are lost, it is tough to get them back.

Because of that, it is in the best interests of the Fairs to run meets, even with no Fair taking place or fans allowed at the races. Next year when hopefully everything is back to normal, the Fairs will again have the garden spot of summer racing dates.

For now, at least it appears the Alameda County Fair, in conjunction with the State Fair in Sacramento, will run a 12-day meet running Friday-Sunday over the course of four weeks.

According to the condition book available on-line at www.calfairs.com, racing is set to commence on Friday, June 19, with the last day on Sunday, July 12. There is a plan to hold three weeks of racing for Sacramento in Pleasanton, making it a seven-week meet. The condition book for the three additional weeks was not available when I checked.

But all the planning may be wasted as the dates will not be official until June 11 when the next CHRB meeting is scheduled. According to the CHRB web site (www.chrb.ca.gov) racing dates are scheduled for June 17-July 14 for Pleasanton, July 15-August 4 in Sacramento, August 5-18 at Santa Rosa, August 19-September 1 at Ferndale, and October 7-20 at Fresno.

It adds in a line below the racing dates, actual days of live racing will be determined at the time applications are approved by the board. Many in the industry are grumbling on social media with the thought of going from four days a week at Golden Gate Fields to three days a week at Pleasanton.

The purses would be smaller and there is every reason to expect opposition from the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) and the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT) who would rather keep their horses at Golden Gate Fields throughout the summer.

The wacky way which the CHRB operates, it is foolish to think anything is a lock and is one of things that will make interesting to listen to the meeting on June 11.

I have said it time and time again that Fair racing is the best grassroots marketing for horse racing. Each year thousands of new fans are exposed to horse racing during the Fairs. If the industry gains new fans, it is better for the industry.

It is a no-brainer how important the Fairs are to the sport and anyone that argues that point is ignorant, plain and simple. But here is a major point that needs to be considered for this summer – what is best for the sport?

Honestly, for this summer I think in the best interests of the horses and the horsemen – and this pains me to say this – would be to leave them at Golden Gate, provided that next year when normal life resumes and the Fairs are back that horse racing can run a full summer Fair card with their traditional dates. There are no Fairs taking place and with no fans allowed at the races, at least through the first part of the summer, everything that makes the Fairs special is out the window.

I have been outspoken about the Stronach Group for some time and I still think they have some shady characters in their organization, but I have to be man enough to admit, they have done a nice job at Golden Gate Fields recently.

It is the infighting that has been destroying the sport for years and it is getting close to ending it altogether, at least in Northern California. I think for this year the Fairs need to broker a deal to get their dates back next year and allow for four-day a week racing at Golden Gate Fields this summer. It is no secret that there is serious disdain between the Stronach camp and the CARF people.

In the end, three-day meets would be detrimental to the sport and would go to serve only the very few counting on over-inflated pay checks.

I love Fair racing and will always be its biggest proponent. I have no motive other than what is best for the sport and this year I am sure it would be not wise financially to run without Fairs taking place. In fact, it is very realistic that the counties running the Fair races would take a big hit financially. With the Northern California counties hemorrhaging money, is this really in their best interests, especially with no Fairs to fill their coffers?

Both horse racing and the rest of the Fair benefit each other when run together, but I think it has been proven that it is not the case when there is no Fair taking place.

Hopefully egos and power struggles can be put aside this year in the interest of horse racing, not bank accounts. At the end of the day, I have been one of the very few people I know to speak honestly about horse racing, a sport that had been a major part of my life for over 50 years. Others won’t speak the truth for fear of retribution and honestly, they are right. It’s a cutthroat industry and one full of backstabbing.

There’s no chance to be honest in this industry. Do it and your out of a job – it’s that vicious.

I want the sport to survive and if that means making a deal with the devil for one year, so be it. Let’s save the sport first, then worry about the bank accounts later.

By Dennis Miller

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