Golden Gate Fields is the last remaining horse racecourse in all of Northern California. And it’s closing for good this fall.
It’s wild to us that horse racing is still a permissible and culturally accepted sport that oscillates around animal cruelty. Horses have pain receptors on par with those of human beings, which means they feel discomfort and pain similar to us. Thus, whippings cause these animals a measurable amount of misery — and the practice still isn’t banned, but rather just mitigated. (The Kentucky Derby, for example, limits jockeys to six whips per horse, per race.)
Racing horses, too, are more likely to suffer life-ending injuries than non-racing equines; their living corridors are crammed; animals are known to endure performance drugs illegally administered by jockeys, stable staff, etc.; once retired or deemed “unwinnable,” racehorses are commonly sent to slaughter and killed at ages much, much (much) younger than if they were to live out their natural life spans.
Adding insult to injury, many stable staff and young riders are exploited, making pennies on the dollar for certain jobs.
All of this is to say that horse racing is an archaic construct. And a sign of this age-old sport, well, aging out of fondness is the fact that the SF Bay Area will no longer have a designated horse racing track come this fall.
In a release from Stronach Group, the entity managing Golden Gate Fields racecourse in Albany, it was announced the cooperative would close its NorCal race track this fall. If you’re not familiar with horse racing but recognize the name of the track.
It garnered national media attention in December 2020 when a massive Covid-19 outbreak infected over 300 employees at the track. Per the San Francisco Chronicle, most of the workers on the way — “369, according to the California Horse Racing Board” — lived on-site in green structures, defined as a combination of “apartments and dorms.” Many residents, including family members of the track workers, share both bathrooms and kitchens, making it rife at the time for coronavirus infection.
“The Stronach Group remains steadfastly committed to racing in California,” company CEO and president Belinda Stronach said in a statement, per the Associated Press. Stomach Group realizes that the sudden and abrupt decision will have a massive impact on employees, jockeys, and the stabled horses at the 140-acre horse track.
Though this freed-up focus and resources will go toward “focusing” on other race tracks in the state.
“Focusing on Santa Anita Park and San Luis Rey Downs as state-of-the-art racing and training facilities that offer enhanced program quality, increased race days, expanded wagering opportunities, and premier hospitality and entertainment experiences is vital to ensuring that California racing can continue to compete and thrive on a national level,” she said.
Scott Chaney, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, noted that the closure of the track will cause many problems with Golden Gate Field employees; some of these workers will be relocated to other racecourses; all horses stabled at the track are expected to be relocated by August of next year.
Though we do hope the families and workers affected by the closing of NorCal’s only race track find solid ground, maybe it’s time we outright phase out these race tracks. Because animal welfare.