Pleasanton fairgrounds horse track, stables closing for winter

Officials: Decision made after funding agreement with Golden Gate Fields ends

The Alameda County Agricultural Fair Association has decided to close down its horse training operation for the winter beginning Dec. 26, leaving Tri-Valley owners and trainers without a local facility to practice and Pleasanton fairgrounds workers uncertain about their future employment.

The association's CEO Jerome Hoban, along with director of racing Jeanne Wasserman, are set to meet with owners and trainers next Thursday morning in the fairgrounds' Palm Pavilion to discuss the transition and get feedback, according to Angel Moore, the fair's marketing and communications manager. At this time, the meeting is not open to the public or press.

After Christmas, horses in Pleasanton will be sent to Berkeley horse racing venue Golden Gate Fields, where races are being held throughout the winter. The racing season in Pleasanton runs only in the summer and fall, but the fairgrounds had been used as a training facility year-round under a funding agreement with Golden Gate Fields that is not being renewed.

Fair officials anticipate the Pleasanton fairgrounds' stables and track would reopen for thoroughbred race-horse training May 1 through the end of October, with the facilities shutting down again once the 2017 race circuit ends in the fall.

"I am sad to say, after decades of the Alameda County Fair supporting the Northern California horse racing circuit, Golden Gate Fields has determined it will no longer fund the Pleasanton training facility," said Hoban, who heads the nonprofit entity responsible for producing the annual Alameda County Fair and managing the 267-acre fairgrounds property on Pleasanton Avenue, in a statement.

"We will work on a transition plan with our trainers and employees for the seasonal closure and get ready for our reopening in the spring as we ramp up for our Fair Race Meet," Hoban added.

While training opportunities will become more limited at the fairgrounds because of the upcoming closure, Moore said horse racing will not disappear.

"Horse racing is not going away in Pleasanton," she said.

Since October 2008, Golden Gate Fields has been using the Pleasanton stables and track as an auxiliary training facility because it lacked space, according to Moore. Golden Gate Fields had been paying the fair association $7,100 per day of transporting and stabling of race horses in Pleasanton.

But with more space available at the Berkeley facility due to a combination of expansion and a declining race horse population, it was determined that Golden Gate Fields did not need Pleasanton stables to accommodate its upcoming races.

When Golden Gate Fields submitted its proposed 2017 race dates to the California Horse Racing Board the regulatory body that oversees tracks, fairgrounds and wagering for approval, the application called for housing horses in their enlarged 1,500-stall stable area without needing the Pleasanton fairgrounds as an additional space.

The state board approved that request, along with the 2017 race dates throughout Northern California, at its Nov. 17 meeting.

It will review the matter in the spring to determine whether Golden Gate Fields continues to have a sufficient number of stalls to accommodate its horse population; if not, the board could require them to start using Pleasanton stables again, triggering the facility's reopening before May 1, according to California Horse Racing Board spokesman Mike Marten.

"Golden Gate Fields decided they reached the end of the line as far as going into their pockets to keep Pleasanton open because it's not only expensive, but they said, 'We don't need Pleasanton,'" Marten said. "The board agreed 1,500 stalls at Golden Gate was a sufficient number for them to hold their meets without Pleasanton."

There are 325 horses on the Pleasanton fairgrounds on average year-round for training, Wasserman said in an email, with the track currently open as a practice facility six days a week. The facility has 684 stalls, which she said are full during live race meets for the annual Alameda County Fair.

The closure of the stables and track will not impact the off-track betting facility or the fairgrounds' RV park, Moore said.

It will, however, affect fairgrounds employees, some of whom will transition into other positions within the organization, according to Moore. Others will go to Golden Gate Fields during the winter, as some staff already work between the Berkeley and Pleasanton tracks.

Moore said Tuesday she is not aware of plans to lay off anyone who works at the fairgrounds.

"But with that said, we are working on a transition plan right now," she said.

While Golden Gate Fields has races scheduled throughout the year, save for two months in the summer and one in the fall, horse racing will take place on a more limited basis at the Pleasanton fairgrounds.

The fair association recently announced horse racing will take place as usual during the Alameda County Fair next year on June 22-25, June 29 to July 2, July 4 and July 6-9 with the fair itself running 20 full days June 16 to July 9, closing only Mondays and Tuesdays except for Independence Day.

Fall horse racing will also return to the fairgrounds for its second year from Sept. 21-24 and Sept. 28 to Oct. 1.

The fairgrounds has a long history of horse racing and training. Its one-mile horse racing track is the oldest in the country and was originally used as a workout camp for East Coast race horses whose owners would ship them out to train during the winter, according to the the fair association.

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