Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley
Golden Gate Fields is an American horse racing track straddling both Albany, California and Berkeley, California along the shoreline of San Francisco Bay adjacent to the Eastshore Freeway in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the closing of the Bay Meadows racetrack on May 11, 2008, it became the only major racetrack in Northern California.
The track is set on 140 acres of land in the cities of Albany and Berkeley; Golden Gate Fields' facilities currently include a one-mile (1,609 m) synthetic track and a turf course measuring 9/10 of a mile, or 7 furlongs plus 132 feet (1,448 m), stalls for 1,420 horses, a main grandstand with seating for approximately 8,000 customers, a clubhouse with seating for approximately 5,200 customers, a Turf Club with seating for approximately 1,500 customers and parking for over 8,500 cars. The synthetic track is called Tapeta, and was installed in the summer of 2007. 
Owned and managed for 25 years by foreign car importer and horseman Kjell Qvale, Golden Gate Fields is now part of the MI Developments Inc. (MID) (who also own Santa Anita Park and the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center in Bonsall, California).
Golden Gate Fields held its inaugural meet on February 1, 1941. The racetrack is situated on a tract of land bordered on the west by Fleming Point, a rocky promontory which lies on the eastern shoreline of San Francisco Bay. On the north, it is bordered by the Albany Bulb, Albany Beach and Albany Plateau, undeveloped terrain over a former landfill, owned by the City of Albany. To the east is Interstate 80 and to the south, the Berkeley Meadow. This tract lies on what was once a part of the slough into which three creeks drain: Schoolhouse Creek, Codornices Creek and Marin Creek. The tract had originally been that portion of the Rancho San Antonio owned by José Domingo Peralta. He sold it in July 1852 to John Fleming, who used it as a transhipment point for sending his cattle across the bay to San Francisco for slaughter and processing. Later in the 19th century, it was the site of the Giant Powder Company, a manufacturer of black powder, dynamite and nitroglycerin. Between 1879 and 1892, the plant blew up four times.
Just before World War II, Golden Gate Fields built its new grandstand up against the eastern slope of Fleming Point, and adjacent marshland was filled in for the track. The inaugural meet was on February 1, 1941. In the period just before the war, the track was used as the scene of the crime central to the plot of the movie Shadow of the Thin Man. With the onset of World War II, the United States Navy took over the property as the "Albany Naval Landing Force Equipment Depot" for storing hundreds of landing craft destined for use in the Pacific theater. After the war, Golden Gate Fields resumed horse racing.
In 1950, Citation and Noor met in the Golden Gate Handicap. The English bred Noor beat the great Triple Crown winner Citation, prompting Citation's rider, Steve Brooks, to say, "We just can't beat that horse."
In 1957, the horse Silky Sullivan came to the track and with him came the excitement that followed him throughout his life. Until the death of Lost in the Fog, he was also the only horse to be buried in the infield. Lost in the Fog's plaque is the third to be placed at Golden Gate Fields, found near the one for Silky Sullivan and that for Bill Shoemaker.
The infield turf course was opened on February 22, 1972.
In 1974, the first $2 million dollar day in Northern California was held on California Derby Day.
In 1984, the great gelding John Henry set a course record winning the Golden Gate Handicap.
Before his death in 2006, Lost in the Fog was based here. On September 17, 2006, he was euthanized due to inoperable tumors found on his spleen and along his spine. Prior to his early death, Lost in the Fog ran three races at his home base — winning twice, and placing once. On September 30, 2006 Golden Gate Fields held a celebration of his life.
During the summer of 2007, the racetrack installed a polymer synthetic type racing surface as mandated by the California Horse Racing Board. The Tapeta Footings synthetic all-weather racing surface is designed to make racing safer for both horses and riders.
On February 1, 2008, on board the horse Two Step Cat, Russell Baze got his 10,000th career win as a jockey.
The multiple Graded stakes winning Hystericalady, half sister to Funny Cide and Commentator, is based here.
With the loss of Bay Meadows to developers in 2008, Golden Gate Fields has become Northern California's only major racetrack (aside from racetracks that host the summer fair circuit). Its stakes schedule (graded and ungraded) is in flux as officials of California racing shuffle the racing season. Golden Gate Fields may return to offering both Spring and Autumn racing, with more racing dates. On May 2, 2009, the Silky Sullivan Handicap ran again after a hiatus of two years.
In December 2008, it was reported that Magna Entertainment, the owner of Golden Gate Fields, was in serious financial difficulties and had hired a law firm specializing in bankruptcies and reorganization. In March 2009, Magna filed for bankruptcy, saying that racing would be unaffected.
AC Transit, the local public transit agency, provided a seasonal bus service, line 304, between the track and North Berkeley BART station until 2008. The track is also accessible from the Gilman Street and Albany exits of the Eastshore Freeway, as well as from adjacent city streets. The San Francisco Bay Trail, a bicycle and walking path, runs to the north and south edge of the track, but does not go through, leaving a gap. In 2009 East Shore Charter Lines was contracted to provide the racetrack with a new free service from the BART station.
Golden Gate Fields is home to the following graded stakes:
- Grade 2 San Francisco Mile Stakes
- Grade 3 All American Stakes
- Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap
- Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby.
- Grade 3 Golden Gate Fields Turf, 4 Year Olds and up, 1 mile and 3/8 (11 furlongs), $100,000g, turf.
- Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby aka the California Derby.
- Grade 3 The Silky Sullivan Handicap for California breds, run on the grass.
- Grade 3 Yerba Buena Handicap
It hosts numerous overnight handicaps and ungraded stakes events.
- Alcatraz Stakes, 3 year olds, eight and a half furlongs, turf, $75,000
- Tanforan Stakes, 3 Year Olds and up, one mile and 3/8, turf. $75,000
- Miss America Stakes, Fillies and mares, 3 Year Olds and up, one mile and 1/8, turf. $75,000
- Corte Madera Stakes, 2 Year Old Fillies, one mile. $75,000
- California Oaks
- China Basin Stakes
- Gold Rush Stakes
- Half Moon Bay Stakes
- Lost in the Fog
- Pacific Heights Stakes, 3 Year Olds and up (Cal-breds), one mile and 1/16. $75,000
- Mill Valley Stakes
- Raise Your Skirts, 4 Year Olds and up, Fillies & Mares, 6 furlongs, $75,000.
- Tiburon Handicap, 3 Year Old Fillies, six furlongs. $75,000
- Sausalito Stakes, 3 Year Olds and up, six furlongs. $75,000
- Forty Niner Stakes, 3 Year Olds and up, one mile and 1/16. $75,000
- Campanile Stakes, Fillies and mares, 4 Year Old and up, one mile and 1/16. $75,000
- Stinson Beach Stakes, 3 Year Olds, six furlongs. $50,000
- Oakland Stakes, 3 Year Olds and up, six furlongs. $75,000
- Golden Poppy, 3 Year Old Fillies, 1 mile and 1/16 on the turf. $75,000.
- Golden Gate Fields Sprint, 4 Year Olds & Up, 6 furlongs, $75,000.
- Work the Crowd, 4 Year Olds & Up, Fillies & Mares (Cal-bred), 1 mile and 1/16, $75,000.
- Silveyville Stakes, 1 and 1/16 mile, $73,500
- Golden Nugget Stakes, $50,000
- Sam Spear (1978–present)
Pop culture references
- Punk rock band Rancid wrote and performed the song "GGF", about lead singer Tim Armstrong's childhood near Golden Gate Fields, on their 2000 self-titled album.
- Golden Gate fields was featured in the Rancid video "Last one to die"
- In On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Sal Paradise visits Golden Gate Fields with his friend Remi Boncœur who loses all their money before the seventh race.
- In the movie "Metro" starring Eddie Murphy and Michael Rappaport, Murphy's character is seen at Golden Gate Fields betting on a race and blaming Russel Baze for losing his money.
Notes and references
- A Selective History of the Codornices-University Village..., by Warren and Catherine Lee, Imprint (Albuquerque, N.M.): Belvidere Delaware Railroad Company Enterprises, Ltd., (2000).
- Golden Gate Fields website
- Photos of Golden Gate Fields, including memorial plaque for Silky Sullivan and Lost in the Fog
- Golden Gate Fields facebook fan page