The Stronach Group said there is a possibility of keeping the Golden Gate Fields open for six more months beyond the planned mid-December closing date.
“We will do everything we can to keep it open for a short time,” racing executive director Aidan Butler told a subcommittee of the California Horse Racing Board at a Del Mar hotel on Wednesday.
That would be a small concession to the riders and stakeholders who have vehemently opposed the announced closure of the Bay Area track after more than eight decades, a decision that was kept secret until it was made public last month.
Scott Chaney, executive director of the CHRB but not a board member, wondered aloud what the Stronach Group wants to do to keep the course open longer because “I don’t think they’re going to do it out of the goodness of their hearts.”
Butler pointed out that among the factors that will determine whether the Golden Gate can stay open longer include potential legislation. While Butler has not spelled out what that might be, it is widely believed that the Stronach Group wants legislation that would allow the simulcast revenues currently held by Golden Gate to be moved south to its route in to direct Santa Anita.
Simulcast money, which is earnings from all routes that the host route takes bets on, is currently split between Northern and Southern California based on stake amount.
If Golden Gate closes, it’s unclear where that revenue would go. So it would be in the interest of the Stronach Group to continue racing until the situation is resolved.
It is also unclear what would happen to the property if it were sold. A voting initiative is needed so that the land can be used for anything other than a park or green space. There are also structural limitations and other limitations that would make commercial development a very difficult endeavor.
“[The delay in closing] “It would have a tremendous stabilizing effect, especially if we all got together like Mr. Butler suggested and really shared those ideas,” said California Thoroughbred Trainers chief executive Alan Balch. “We could all see how those pieces fit together.”
CHRB Commissioner Wendy Mitchell questioned how a delay would allow all groups to come together for a solution. She noted the difficulty in reaching a racing agreement between the circuit and the California Thoroughbred Trainers, which remained unresolved at multiple meetings.
Balch said in a pre-meeting submission to the Racing Committee, Stronach Group and other stakeholders, “When tracks have historically been closed in California — Tanforan, Vallejo, Bay Meadows, San Mateo Fair and Stockton in Northern California, and Fairplex and Hollywood Park in Southern California – their operators have given sufficient notice to the industry, including owners and trainers, to prepare and sustain racing and breeding for the future.”
The statement goes on to say that this is not the case with Golden Gate Fields.
“Until recently, Mr. Craig Fravel, Executive Vice President of 1/ST Racing and Gaming, announced both privately and publicly that Golden Gate Fields was ‘profitable,'” Balch wrote. “It should be. In calendar 2022, the last full year for which data is available, when Golden Gate was the northern one [simulcast] Hosts, the grand total of Golden Gate Fields races and North Zone simulcast races exceeded $570 million! Total route commissions generated from this deal were $24 million, less any additional revenue from non-wagering sources.
“Over $700 million in total was handled for the Northern California races, with total circuit commissions totaling over $29 million from betting alone.”
A Stronach spokesman denied the route had made a profit, saying in a statement to The Times, “As we have previously shared, TSG has lost approximately $30 million over the past 10 years.” we submit all necessary financial information to our regulator – in this case, the California Horse Racing Board.”
It is unclear what can be achieved at the full CHRB meeting on Thursday. The only agenda item mentions a “Race Dates Committee Report”. No point can be added to a CHRB session without a 10-day public announcement. Last year the race dates were assigned in September.