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Fans fill stands to bid farewell to horse racing at Golden Gate Fields

Aerial footage of Golden Gate Fields
Aerial footage of Golden Gate Fields

Written by Da Lin

BERKELEY, Calif. (KPIX-TV)- The historic Golden Gate Fields racetrack permanently ended an 80-plus-year run after a final horse race at 5:37 p.m. on Sunday.

There were eight races with about 50 horses on the last day. Thousands of people packed the venue to honor the venue's history.

Longtime race fan Dennis Clay was sad to see it go.

"I want to be part of the history for the last day," Clay said.

Clay had been coming here for over 40 years and said he placed mostly small bets.

He added that what kept him coming back was the adrenaline rush of winning.

"It's just the jubilation, that experience of saying 'Yes! I got the winner by a nose!" Clay said.

"The end of an era after 83 years. We're going to miss everybody," said David Duggan, vice president and general manager of Golden Gate Fields.

Duggan says horse racing is a declining sport and business. Online betting means fewer people go to the tracks these days.

"There were days where we had thousands (of people here). Dollar days we used to run were very, very, very popular. After the pandemic, unfortunately, it was very difficult to get that going again," Duggan said.

Thousands of people showed up for the final day. A long line of people waited to enter.

Carol Bennis and her husband came from Nevada to say farewell.

"I hate to see it go but I know it's progress. Time moves on. I can tell you when I leave, I probably will have tears in my eyes,"  Bennis said.

Bennis says her parents brought her to Golden Gate Fields often when she was a little girl.

"I just love, love this track," she said.

Golden Gate Fields
Aerial view of Golden Gate Fields horse race track in December 2023. Photo courtesy of Kirby Lee/Getty Images

Some were celebrating the closure, saying it meant no more horse deaths at the track.

The California Horse Racing Board revealed that 18 horses have died at the facility since the track owner announced the closure last year.

"I'm so excited that this is kind of a step towards eliminating horse racing in California entirely and excited that, as a society, we are evolving away from using animals for entertainment and for profit," said Almira Tanner with Direct Action Everywhere, an animal welfare group.

The venue takes up 140 acres in the cities of Albany and Berkeley and boasts sweeping views of the bay. There's been a lot of talks about the future of this prime piece of real estate but no plans at this time. The general consensus is the property will be redeveloped as a mixture of park space and housing.

"Get some affordable housing here. That would be my ideal situation for it," Clay said.

Albany and Berkeley city officials said it'll likely be another 10 to 15 years before they can build something on the grounds. They said there'll be a lot of community meetings and possibly lawsuits. So they anticipate the redevelopment project will be a long and slow process.

Article Topic Follows: California News

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