Golden Gaet fields with a glimpse of Albany in the distance
Golden Gate fields with a glimpse of Albany in the distance

The 2010 horse-racing season began in late December at Golden Gate Fields, with the next significant live race scheduled for Martin Luther King Day.

But horse-racing lovers really have their eyes posted on Feb. 25, the day Magna Entertainment Group plans to auction off Golden Gate Fields to reduce its debt and help it out of bankruptcy.

As the last remaining horse track in northern California, the 130-acre Golden Gate Fields, with its prime location on the edge of the water and sweeping views of the bay, harkens back to another era when betting on horses – rather than traveling to Indian casinos – was the preferred form of gambling. In the glory days of the 1950s, the grandstands were routinely full of spectators. One of the most talked about races was in 1950 when an English-bred horse named Noor defeated the Triple Crown winner Citation. Some of the famous horses who have raced at Golden Gate Fields include Silky Sullivan, John Henry, and Lost in the Fog.

Golden Gate Fields straddles both Berkeley and Albany, although the bulk of the land lies in the latter city. Albany residents met this weekend — and will continue to meet in the coming months — to determine what they want to happen on the property. In 1990, voters passed an ordinance strictly limiting development on the parcel, even though the closure of the race track would mean the loss of $1 million a year in revenue to the city.

While the future of the horse track is still uncertain, the horse racing continues. Two students at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, Julia Olmstead and Sierra Fitucci,  have made a nice multi-media presentation of the largely immigrant workers who take care of the horses. Up by 5 am to muck out the stalls and brush the horses, this group of men has developed close relationships with the horses and their owners. They are part of a group of 500 people who work at the track.

There are some other nice photos here.

UPDATE: The Oakland Tribune reported Tuesday that Magna Entertainment has reached a deal to sell Golden Gate Fields and its two other racetracks. So horse racing will continue at the track for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, Albany is still doing some long-term planning for the area. The city controls hundreds of nearby acres and has told the new owner it is open to future discussions about how the area should be developed.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...