California Racing Dates Approved for '09

Golden Gate Fields will dominate northern calendar with the demise of Bay Meadows.

Golden Gate Fields will host a total of 181 racing days in 2009, including 29 during the summer on behalf of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, under a dates allocation plan approved by the California Horse Racing Board Nov. 18.

With the demise of Bay Meadows, Golden Gate will dominate two-thirds of the 270-day Northern California racing calendar, with the remainder of the dates spread out among the region's fair facilities. The Albany track ran 97 days in 2007 and will total 127 in 2008 .

"Personally, I don't like the calendar," said CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro during the commission's meeting at the University of California-Davis. Shapiro said he would prefer to see a "better flow" in the geographic progression from the various sites for shipping purposes, but added, "I realize the fair schedule would have to change and I know that's not going to happen this year."

The shake-up in the calendar due to the loss of Bay Meadows was the biggest change in the state's racing schedule for the coming year. The board also unanimously approved dates for the Southern California Thoroughbred calendar and for Quarter Horse and Standardbred schedules.

Still to be decided is if the Solano County Fair will run July 22-26, or if those five days will be shifted to the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, which is currently scheduled to host 15 days running July 1-19. The board left that decision until after the new year. This would be Solano's 60th and final season of racing at the Vallejo site, which is expected to be redeveloped in the next few years.

Joseph Barkett, the fairgrounds general manager for Solano, urged the board to allow one final meet for the Vallejo facility, which has lagged in terms of handle in recent years. The Thoroughbred Owners of California, represented by Tom Bachman, argued that operating a one-week meet would be a mistake due to costs.

New this year to the northern fair calendar are two summer stands at Golden Gate -- Aug. 12-23 and Sept.  9-Oct. 4 -- totaling 29 days. Profits from the track's portion of wagering takeout from these dates are to be used to help fund facility improvements at the Pleasanton site, which state racing officials have identified as the track that will eventually replace Bay Meadows on the calendar. An attempt to raise facility seed money through a takeout increase during the fair season stalled in the California Legislature this year, leading to the CARF plan in conjunction with Golden Gate.

Christopher Korby, CARF's executive director, said after the meeting that the new calendar "starts to lay the groundwork for the future" of Northern California racing.

Golden Gate will run continuously from Dec. 26 through June 14, 2009, with the spring portion of the calendar officially beginning March 4. Then the summer fair season begins at Stockton, running nine days from June 18-28, followed by Pleasanton and perhaps Vallejo. Santa Rosa takes over for 10 days from July 29-Aug., 9 followed by Ferndale for nine days Aug. 13-23. That meet runs concurrently with the first CARF meet at Golden Gate. Then comes Sacramento's Cal Expo meet for 11 days (Aug. 26-Sept. 7), followed by Golden Gate again. Fresno hosts for 10 days Oct. 7-18. The Golden Gate fall/winter stand commences Oct. 21 and concludes Dec. 13.

This will be the first year in some time that Fresno will run a meet that does not overlap with the Bay Meadows fall schedule, board vice chairman John Harris pointed out.

The big question mark in Southern California is whether Hollywood Park will run the entire year in 2009. The Inglewood track has given assurance that it will run its spring/summer meet and is expected to announce in May whether it will also use its fall/winter dates. The board approved a plan that assumes Hollywood will run.

Santa Anita, which experimented with a Thursday-Monday schedule in 2008, returns to the traditional Wednesday-Sunday calendar this year.

The full Southern California schedule begins with Santa Anita opening Dec. 26 and running through April 19, 2009, a total of 84 days. Hollywood's 65-day spring meet runs April 22-July 19. Del Mar, with six-day weeks, has 43 racing days from July 22 to Sept. 9. Fairplex begins a 16-day run the next day, Sept. 10, lasting through Sept. 28. Then Oak Tree's meet at Santa Anita begins a 31-day run, returning the schedule to five-day weeks from Sept. 30 to Nov. 8 (except for an additional day Oct. 12). The Hollywood fall session is set for 31 days from Nov. 11 to Dec. 21.

The Los Alamitos Quarter Horse schedule calls for 201 days beginning Jan. 1 and continuing to Dec. 20 while running Thursday through Sunday. The Cal Expo harness meet is set for 148 days from Dec. 26 to Dec. 19, 2009. The Sacramento facility will run mostly four-day weeks (Wednesday-Saturday) through the winter and early spring, switching to three-day weeks (Thursday-Saturday) starting May 7.