Horse Racing in California Faces Old and New Challenges

One track is slated to close next year

Golden Gate Fields
Golden Gate Fields is set to close in 2024.
Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

What does it mean when a site that’s hosted horse racing for years closes its doors? That will become a reality for one California facility next year, as Golden Gate Fields will host its final event in 2024. The closure of this space, however, seems to raise larger questions about the sport in question — even if this year has taught us plenty about the fleeting nature of athletic organizations in northern California.

In an in-depth article for the Los Angeles Times, John Cherwa explores the state of horse racing in California — and especially its uncertain future in the northern half of the state. There are a few reasons for that, not least of which is that Golden Gate Fields will be far from the only racetrack in California to close its doors. Cherwa points to the 2008 closure of Bay Meadows as a significant moment for the sport.

There’s also a real estate component to it; another California racetrack, the Hollywood Park Racetrack, was replaced by SoFi Stadium, which opened to the public in 2020. As Cherwa notes, several racetracks situated in northern California could entice real estate developers if offered up for sale — and with the potential for the California racing circuit to be situated entirely in the southern half of the state, that seems eminently possible.

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There are plenty of factors at work here, from regional dynamics within the sport to the aforementioned real estate concerns. It’ll also be interesting to see how the ongoing efforts to legalize sports betting in the state of California impact all of this. While horse racing has no shortage of metaphors on hand, this feels a little more like four-dimensional chess.

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