Golden Gate Fields cuts purses for final meet – what does that mean to NorCal racing?

By Dennis Miller

If I have learned anything over the years when it comes to the sport of horse racing, do not be surprised by anything, and perhaps more importantly, trust no one.

When it was reported last weekend that Golden Gate Fields was going to cut purses up to 25 percent for its upcoming winter/spring meet it was not a surprise to me. In fact, I expected it to happen.

While on the surface, the reasoning is understandable. Golden Gate Fields has said it has racked up more than $3 million in debt the last few years and cutting the purses is a way to help recoup at least some of the losses.

GGF was channeling some positive feelings after agreeing to run one more meet instead of closing the track this past weekend as they previously announced.

The move would allow the Northern California racing groups – the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF) and the Sonoma County Fair – more time to develop a workable plan to keep racing year-round in the north and don’t forget, make the Fairs happy.

I don’t buy that for one second.

The parent company – 1/ST Racing – of GGF is moving all operations to Southern California, in hopes of growing the diminishing sport at Santa Anita and their training center San Luis Rey Downs.

If they force all the barns from Northern California to Southern California, then logic would indicate that an influx of horses to their existing facilities would help grow the sport.

By helping the remaining horse racing organizations in Northern California keep racing in NorCal then it would not help their plan for global, er California, domination.

In addition, if racing stays up north, so likely will the take of simulcasting money, a huge chuck of change that would deeply help racing up here. It is no secret that 1/ST Racing wants the entire pie.

So then why run one more meet?

My thoughts – to do exactly what they are during. Cutting purses will force more out of the industry and possibly for the bigger barns, moving down south sooner.

The longer the purses are cut the more people are going to be out of jobs.

Before I go any further let me say the people in the horse racing industry are some of the most genuine, real people I have known.

They love their jobs and most importantly they love the horses. They work long hours for far less than they are worth, but the horses are cared for and well kept.

Sure, there are some nefarious characters involved but that can be said for any profession in the world.

It is blatantly unfair so many of these people are being treated as chess pieces instead of people. If you think the decision makers in 1/ST Racing care about the heart and soul of horse racing, you are sadly mistaken.

All that matters is the profit made and that will always be the case. Show a profit – work harder to show a bigger profit even if it means pushing aside all the people that have kept the sport operating.

The problem? Logic is not the reality of the situation. Most barns would probably shut down or move out of California. There are going to be a lot of people jobless and in many cases, homeless.

Any move by 1/ST Racing or the Stronach Group has never been what’s good for horse racing but rather what is good for them, or bad for competing organizations.

By cutting the purses they are bleeding the industry here and the horse population will continue to dwindle until they are very few, hurting or destroying the Fairs.

So, what does this all mean for the future of horse racing in Northern California?

I want to believe it will all work out in the end. But even an overly optimistic person such as I am, gets to the point where you start seeing the sand emptying in the hourglass, with the end getting closer by the moment.

For the sport to move forward, we need CARF, the team at Sonoma County, and the Fairs to work together. The major problem is I’m not sure everyone in this group trusts each other.

As I talked about above, horse racing is a sport where justifiably so, there is not much earned trust.

There are many people – people in influential positions – that won’t speak their minds and they are worried about retribution by those in power.

Then there are people that don’t care what others think – me included – that are stuck on the sidelines watching this sideshow play out.

That gets frustrating.

And please don’t believe the Fairs will stay in the fight for much longer. I know that racing brings more people to the respective Fairs but should racing go away, the Fairs will be just fine. I guarantee each Fair has a plan in place to repurpose the space where the racetracks are located.

Yes, I believe – there goes that overly optimistic part of me – horse racing in Northern California will survive but only if it’s done right by working together.

It’s something that has not been done in what seems like the 1980s when horse racing was thriving.

Somone needs to control the narrative and to this point that is not happening. Controlling the narrative means to keep the public informed and outside of 1/ST Racing, that is not happening.

I repeatedly get asked what is going on and I have no information to tell them or explain what moves are being made to save the sport of horse racing in Northern California.

To control the court of public opinion up here, information needs to be regularly released to the public but that is not being done.

There are times when silence is golden, but this is not one of them.