The Northern California Fairs will have racing dates this summer without having Fairs, it was confirmed Thursday during a marathon California Horse Racing Board meeting conducted via teleconference.
The Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton will have racing dates beginning June 19 and running through July 12. At that point, the California State Fair (Cal Expo) will run their meeting at Pleasanton from July 17 to July 28.
Following that, the Sonoma County Fair will run its two-week meet from July 29-August 11 at Golden Gate Fields. Golden Gate Fields would then run its meet from August 12 to October 6.
At this point, there are to be no racing fans allowed to attend the races, but as the summer moves on those decisions could be eased.
The decision was reached after a rare compromise between the continually warring factions of The Stronach Group (owners and operators of the Golden Gate Fields) and the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF).
It was continually mentioned and agreed that these dates are strictly for 2020 and have been arrived at because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The compromise was that CARF gave up the seventh week of racing dates it had been allotted, and as a result Golden Gate Fields agreed to stay open for training throughout the summer.
The decision was finally approved six hours after the CHRB meeting began, appropriate for the disaster that has been horse racing in Northern California.
There were a couple of main points that were at the root of the disagreements. The compromise was finally reached after no one could come to an agreement early in the meeting. Both sides were implored to reach an agreement offline and eventually they found common ground – for now.
The compromise answered the two major concerns of the operating companies, but not necessarily the horsemen.
The first related to the stabling of the horses. Currently Golden Gate Fields has around 1,300 horses stabled. Since CARF and TSG could not agree on a stabling agreement previously, Golden Gate Fields opted to close during the Pleasanton/Cal Expo meeting. The compromise eliminated the issue as Golden Gate State Fields has agreed to stay open.
The big issue that is still a sticking point with the horsemen is having to leave the safety area of Golden Gate Fields. TSG has done a wonderful job of following COVID-19 safety and it is a major concern for the horsemen.
Having to leave the confines of GGF to travel to Pleasanton has prompted a lot of concerns from the horsemen. There were passionate pleas from some trainers, including Aggie Ordonez.
“We have done our part to stay safe,” said Ordonez of the conditions at Golden Gate Fields. “I am asking the (CHRB) board to keep us safe by not turning us into transient employees by going to Pleasanton or Sacramento. Our barn is our family and we keep our family safe at work so we can keep our families safe at home.”
This is somewhat taken care of by Golden Gate staying open and not forcing the race teams to relocate for the summer, but the remaining issue is, how many of the barns stabled at Golden Gate Fields will enter horses at Pleasanton. You cannot force them to enter so it will be interesting to see how many are willing to ship their horses and send employees to other tracks.
Pleasanton spoke about having their facilities approved by their county health departments. After having worked with Pleasanton for years, I have no doubt they will do everything in their power to make it a safe working environment, but it might be tough sell to the trainers/owners at Golden Gate Fields.
I have been a huge proponent of Fair racing, knowing it is an amazing grassroots way to bring new fans into horse racing, something vital to the survival of the sport.
The people at the individual Fair tracks are all wonderful people that truly have the best interests of the horseman in mind. But this one year, I feel the best interest of horse racing, and the public, the course of action should have been to leave the horses and the racing dates at Golden Gate Fields.
It is in the best for the horses and the backstretch workers, the heart and soul of horse racing. At Golden Gate Fields they have a system in place that appears to be working in terms of safety.
The CHRB needs to be a governing body instead of a facilitator of incessant whining and non-decision making by racing organizations in California. Make decisions in the best interest of the sport, even if it means ruffling feathers.
By Dennis Miller