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Golden Gate Threatens Closure at CHRB Session

Northern California track representatives say fair system is "beyond repair."

A California Horse Racing Board discussion regarding the reallocation of 2015 racing dates for the California Fair circuit often shifted to the possibility of Golden Gate Fields closing in the future.

During an argument between representatives of The Stronach Group and members of the California Authority of Racing Fairs April 15, Keith Brackpool, the chairman of West Coast operations for The Stronach Groupwhich owns the trackmade the first reference to the potential sale of the site on the shores of the San Francisco Bay.

"We intend, over the coming weeks, to put forth a proposal as to what it would take for us to stay in business here at Golden Gate," Brackpool said in front of the CHRB. "That proposal will include a proposed racing calendar. It will include potential overlaps in the racing calendar. But if we can't come to agreement on what that is and have the security, then we will have no other alternative but to close the facility.

"The redevelopment options here are quite extraordinary... The upside is very, very significant and we have offers that are stratospheric."

The two sides, in essentially a public negotiation, eventually agreed in principle to adjust the racing 2015 racing calendarwith Golden Gate ending its August-September meet Sept. 7, followed by the San Joaquin County Fair conducting meets in Stockton, Calif. for two weeks, leading into another two-week meet for Golden Gate, which would then lead into Fresno's fair dates beginning Oct. 8. But Brackpool consistently contended that Stockton should not be allowed to have racing, because it doesn't conduct a true "fair."

Thoroughbred Owners of California president Joe Morris agreed with Brackpool's assertion.

"TOC has been very consistent on this point over the last couple of years," Morris said, "We don't think race dates should go to fairs that don't run (fairs). We've been saying that on record in the two years I've been here and we've continued to say that."

San Joaquin County Fair representatives said they would put on "fair-like events" during the meet and CHRB commissioner Steve Beneto vehemently disagreed with the notion of cancelling Stockton's racing dates.

"We're not going to kill any more fairs," Beneto said.

But Brackpool continued to criticize the system, which he feels directly impacts Golden Gate's bottom line, and hinted at a proposal, coming at a later date, that would change the structure of Northern California's racing schedule.

"You won't find a race calendar like this anywhere in the countryopen two weeks, close two weeks, reopen for two weeks," Brackpool said. "It doesn't work. That's why we're coming forth with something radically different. This model is broken beyond repair. This is nothing but a subsidy to the fairs. That's all this model isbroken beyond repair. It makes absolutely no sense at all... It's absurd. We will go with it for this year, but we won't go with this on an ongoing basis. It doesn't make any sense."

Another Stronach Group representative, Scott Daruty, also explicitly mentioned potentially closing Golden Gate, which sits on the border of Bay Area cities Albany and Berkeley.

"It feels like the solution is to always take (racing dates) from Golden Gate... It's an expensive facility to maintain and it's an expensive business to run." Daruty said. "We're not making any money, so we've got to figure out a way to keep this industry viable long term... We would certainly hope to avoid (closing Golden Gate). That's the hope and that's the goal we're working toward... There are astronomical property values and there are challenges in developing this property, but those challenges could be overcome, eventually.

"Is that what we want to do? No... (But) what we can't do is have multi-million dollar losses every year. That won't work. We'd like to come forward with a proposal to right the ship and we can all move on to the future. Will the fairs be part of that? Of course they will, in some shape or form. But will it be identical, in our opinion, to what it's been in the past? Probably not."

California Authority of Racing Fairs executive director Christopher Korby said the CARF would not want Golden Gate to close, but also acknowledged the Northern California fair locations could be in a position to absorb the dates should Golden Gate end racing.

"We're not advocating that, but we'll step up if that's what the reality becomes," Korby said.