By Tim Hunt
Fairgrounds racing families face uncertain futureUploaded: May 16, 2017
The effects of the state Horse Racing Board’s decision last fall to close the auxiliary training track at the Alameda County Fairgrounds continue to ripple through the horseracing community.
The training track at the fairgrounds in Pleasanton re-opened May 2, but will close again after the fair racing meet concludes July 9. It will open again for the fall meet in September.
When the track closed late last year, it forced a series of decisions by people who used it or worked there. Some trainers relocated their horses to Golden Gate Fields in Albany, the official training site, while others took their horses elsewhere.
For track families, living in the RV South trailer park, the situation was even more dire. Initially, they faced the prospect of moving their families mid-semester from the Pleasanton school district. Now, the question is whether their students can remain after the school year ends this month.
From a track standpoint, last year, there were about 300 horses training in Pleasanton in May. This year there are just 98, fair spokeswoman Angel Moore wrote in an email. There’s a real question of how many horses will be available to run during the 12-day Oak Tree at Pleasanton meet. Moore wrote they will not have a good handle on that until the meet is closer. They are reaching out to trainers and encouraging them to come to Pleasanton.
Meanwhile, for the residents of the RV South trailer park, the situation is more challenging. There are 19 families living there and most have school-aged children. The residents pay a special reduced rent ($18 per day) because a member of their family works in the racing industry. Living in Pleasanton allows their children access to the quality Pleasanton public schools—a huge advantage for the kids. Many attend the dual English-Spanish immersion program at Valley View.
Jill Lorentz, the CityServe liaison from Valley Community Church in Pleasanton, and Gloria Gregory from CityServe of the Tri-Valley, have been working together with school district personnel to help the students and their families. She wrote in an email that families without any ties to racing will need to vacate the premises by June 10. That will open space for vendors during the fair.
When the track closure was first announced, they had feared families would have to leave in January and students could not finish the school year. That’s been taken care of, but the future is murky.
It’s more complicated because, as Jill and Gloria found out, there are a number of undocumented (illegal) immigrants in the families. Jill has been working with the families since December of 2015. She, CityServe and school district staff meet regularly to bring resources to the families.
Valley Community has funded on-site English classes, exercise classes, art projects for children as well as financial assistance for clothing, food, diapers and other needs. The church also secured three trailers for families needing shelter and had volunteers repair others.
She explained, “It’s all been done as support of our local community and fellow human beings, as a reflection of the great love God shows His children. Not any accolades for me or the church, but all Glory to God.”
Just what the future holds remains to be seen, but it’s significant that the owners of Golden Gate Fields, have yet to invest the money to remove the artificial surface on the track and return it to dirt. That’s an expensive proposition, but this is a well-heeled corporation that owns Santa Anita in Southern California as well as many other major tracks in the country.
The Golden Gate Fields land is far more valuable for other uses than it is as a race track (remember Bay Meadows that’s now a mixed-use project in San Mateo).
Just how the meet in Pleasanton goes this summer and fall, as well as the rest of the fair circuit, will show the trend whether horse racing will continue in Northern California or be consolidated in the south.