Installation Date Set for New Surface at Golden Gate

Golden Gate Fields to begin construction on its new Tapeta Footings racing surface July 23.

Permits in place, Golden Gate Fields plans to begin construction of its new Tapeta Footings racing surface July 23, track general manager Robert Hartman said Friday.

The track has an Oct. 12 move-in date, Hartman added, but officials would like to have the project completed before then. The next meeting at the Albany, Calif., racetrack begins Nov. 7. Officials had concerns that environmental groups would delay the project, but there was no challenge filed against the city's issuance of permits more than two weeks ago.

During a meeting this week, horsemen were told they had to move out of the barn area -- which stables about 1,000 horses -- by July 22. Hartman said the process of relocating to training facilities at Vallejo's Solano County Fair, Pleasanton's Alameda County Fair, Santa Rosa's Sonoma County Fair, and Bay Meadows has started.

"They were very positive (about plans)," Hartman said July 12. "I think they all understand the need for it. They have concerns, of course. Some of these trainers haven't moved in 20 years, and you can imagine how much stuff accumulates in that amount of time."

Golden Gate Fields is the fourth major track in the state to move to synthetic surface in compliance with a California Horse Racing Board safety mandate to replace natural dirt tracks at the state's major Thoroughbred venues by 2008. Hollywood Park has installed Cushion Track at its Southern California facility and Santa Anita is beginning its project to install Cushion Track as well. Del Mar's new Polytrack surface was tested successfully July 12 in anticipation of the summer season, which begins July 18 at the seaside track.

Bay Meadows, which likely will close some time next year, was granted a waiver of the policy by the CHRB earlier this month, allowing it to race in 2008.

Once the new surface is installed, Golden Gate will be the only major track in the nation to race on Tapeta Footings, which was originally developed by successful East Coast trainer Michael Dickinson for use at his Maryland training facility. Dickinson is overseeing the Golden Gate installation.

Magna Entertainment Corp., owner of Golden Gate Fields, chose Tapeta over several other competitors because they believe it is better suited to handling the region's heavy rainfall.

"We don't have to deal with the same extremes in climate that the Southern California tracks do," Hartman said.  "But because of the rainfall extremes here, it was felt that we  needed the system with the best drainage. We need to be able to get the water off quickly."

Hartman said engineers are to begin by removing 8,000 cubic yards of old top dirt, which will be donated to the bordering city of Berkeley's park and recreation department for the construction of new baseball and soccer fields.

The Tapeta mixture -- a patented blend of wax-coated sand, fibers, and rubber -- covers the top 4 to 7 inches of the system, installed above a permeable two-inch layer of asphalt laid over a six-inch layer of crushed rock. A system of permeable drainage pipes will be installed through the layer of soil beneath. The new racetrack will sit slightly higher than the old one, Hartman said. Golden Gate also plans to install a new safety rail.

The project moved forward without further challenge from local environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, who contended that the impact of particle run-off on San Francisco Bay water ways hadn't been adequately addressed. Hartman credited the city of Albany for "a very thorough" environmental review.

"They would have been going up against about a book’s worth of paper work – peer reviews and legal product testing -- that really backed up the project," Hartman said.

The track has agreed to consider opening a bayside hiking trail for the public on the Golden Gate property as part of the East Bay Regional Park, he noted.

While the barn area is closed, Magna plans to do some much-needed backstretch work,  Hartman added, including road paving, electrical wire replacement, and general sprucing up.  The barns were originally built in the 1940s.