The Stronach Group said “there is a possibility” that it will keep Golden Gate Fields open another six months past its planned closing date in mid-December.
“We will do everything we can to keep it open for a short period,” Aidan Butler, chief executive of racing, told a California Horse Racing Board subcommittee Wednesday at a Del Mar hotel.
That would be a small concession to the horsemen and stakeholders who have vehemently objected to the Bay Area track’s announced closure after more than eight decades, a decision that was shrouded in secrecy 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 keep the track open longer because “I don’t think they are going to do it out of the goodness of their hearts.”
Butler indicated the factors that will determine whether Golden Gate can stay open longer include possible legislation. While Butler did not spell out what that might be, it is widely believed the Stronach Group wants legislation that would allow simulcast revenue currently held by Golden Gate to be sent south to its track at Santa Anita.
Simulcast money, which is revenue from all tracks that the host track takes wagers on, currently is divided between Northern and Southern California, based on the amount wagered.
If Golden Gate is closed, it’s unclear where that revenue would go. So, it would be in the Stronach Group’s interest to keep racing going until the situation is resolved.
Also unclear is what would happen to the land if it is sold. It would take a ballot initiative for the land to be used as anything but a park or greenspace. There also are building limitations and other restrictions that would make commercial development a very difficult proposition.
“[The delay in closing] would have a tremendously stabilizing effect especially if we all got together, as Mr. Butler suggested, and really traded these ideas,” said Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. “We could all see how these parts will fit together.”
CHRB commissioner Wendy Mitchell questioned how a delay would allow all the groups to come together for a solution. She pointed to the difficulty in securing a race agreement between the track and California Thoroughbred Trainers, which went unresolved for several meetings.
Balch, in a pre-meeting submission to the racing board, the Stronach Group and other stakeholders, said: “When California track closings have taken place in the past — Tanforan, Vallejo, Bay Meadows, San Mateo Fair and Stockton in Northern California, and Fairplex and Hollywood Park in Southern California — their operators provided the industry, including owners and trainers, ample notice to prepare and sustain racing and breeding going forward.”
The submission went on to say that this was not the case with Golden Gate Fields.
“Until very recently, Mr. Craig Fravel, executive vice-chairman, 1/ST Racing and Gaming, proclaimed both privately and publicly that Golden Gate Fields ‘is profitable,’” Balch wrote. “It should be. In calendar 2022, the last complete year for which data are available, when Golden Gate was the northern [simulcast] host, total handle on Golden Gate Fields races and on simulcast races in the northern zone exceeded $570 million! Total track commissions generated from this handle was $24 million, net of any additional income from non-wagering sources.
“For Northern California racing in total, handle exceeded $700 million, with total track commissions from wagering alone amounting to over $29 million.”
A Stronach spokesperson denied the track has turned a profit, saying in a statement to The Times: “As we have shared previously, TSG has lost approximately $30 million over the last 10 years. Beyond that, we report all required financial information to our regulator — in this case the California Horse Racing Board.”
It’s unclear what can be accomplished at Thursday’s full meeting of the CHRB. The only agenda item mentions a “report from the Race Dates committee.” No item can be added to a CHRB meeting without 10-day public notice. Last year, race dates were awarded in September.