Thursday Thoughts with Jason Beem Jun. 13, 2024

June 13th, 2024

A good Thursday morning to you all! It’s been a few days since the final race at Golden Gate Fields was run and I wanted to write a little bit about another track closure and some feelings about that. I’ve spent a majority of my life on the West Coast and from about 2018 to 2021, Golden Gate Fields was probably the track I visited most as a fan. In my entire life I’d say I’ve probably been there 25 times or so and it became one of my favorites. I have family in the Bay Area so I’d always make a weekend out of going to the races there and then meeting my cousin for dinner over in the city. 

As I tweeted on Sunday, the idea of Golden Gate Fields being gone makes me more angry than sad. Making your career in an industry that continues to close the places you grew up loving, it wears on you. When tracks close for reasons that you could see 10 and 20 years away, you wonder, how did it still happen? I saw an interview with a horseplayer on track at Golden Gate Fields on Sunday and he said something to the effect of “I’m not sure where I’m going to go now.” For a lot of us, the racetrack is where we go. It’s where we hang out. It’s where our community is, even if we’re there alone. Most of the time I went to Golden Gate Fields I went alone. I’d run upstairs to visit with Frank or Matt for a race, but for the most part, I just wanted to be alone and enjoy the races. Be around other horseplayers and soak in the pastime. 

Ok, I feel like I got my venting out. Let me now share my favorite things about Golden Gate Fields and my trips there. First of all, the drive. I normally was coming to Northern California from the north. The stretch of Interstate 5 through very Northern California is one of my favorite stretches of highway in the country. Mount Shasta, Lake Shasta, it’s just beautiful. I would often stay in Redding and have breakfast at the Black Bear Diner and then drive down to the track. Some of my favorite parts of any regular trip are those routines. I’ll miss that. 

The track itself had some unbelievable views. Much is made about the views at Santa Anita, but Golden Gate Fields had some incredible views, both front and back. The parking lot literally overlooked San Francisco Bay and on a clear day you could see the entire skyline of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. Just gorgeous. Once inside, you got a great view of the traffic on I-80. But also the beautiful hills of Berkeley, California and the beautifully manicured infield provided such a nice backdrop. Also as many know, the view from the turf club men’s bathroom also presents an incredible view of the city. 

The fried chicken from the bar downstairs was always my go to lunch there before they stopped really serving food downstairs. The downstairs at Golden Gate Fields used to be a gamblers paradise. Nothing special, just everyone in the same area firing while watching dozens of televisions. Like so many tracks they slowly started closing off more and more of it until everyone was pretty much upstairs. 

I generally parked down by the quarter pole and I would always watch the last race from down near that gate. My dad always used to describe the sound of horses running by as the “thundering hooves.” Well with Golden Gate’s Tapeta surface, it was incredibly quiet. They’d run by you and you’d hear the jockeys talking or yelling, the whips crack, but the steps of the horses were so strangely quiet. Then I’d head out, generally right onto the I-80 and back towards Seattle and home. Golden Gate Fields was an escape place for me and I have memories I’ll carry forever. But I was a couple times a year visitor. My heart really goes out to the regular players there, the horse people there, and those who made their career there. It was a special place for many of us and I’m so sorry we had to see another one go.