This file photo shows jockeys at Golden Gate Fields, which will shut down operations at the end of this year. Credit: Golden Gate Fields. Credit: Louis Benainous

Golden Gate Fields, the only racetrack in the California Horse Racing Board’s northern zone, will be rolling up operations at the end of this year.

The Stronach Group, which owns the facility, announced Sunday that it was shutting down Golden Gate Fields to “double down” on its racing and training at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia and San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsall. Golden Gate Fields first opened in 1941.

At the end of the 2023 racing meet The Stronach Group will start moving horses south, increasing field sizes and adding another day of racing each week at Santa Anita, according to the announcement. The Stronach Group did not say how many of the hundreds of workers at Golden Gate Fields, which sits in Albany and Berkeley, would be affected by the move.

“We recognize that the decision will have profound effects on our valued employees as well as the owners, trainers, jockeys and stable personnel at Golden Gate Fields,” Belinda Stronach, the company’s chairwoman, chief executive and president, said in the company’s statement. “The Stronach Group is committed to honoring labor obligations and developing a meaningful transition plan.”

While the racetrack itself sits in Albany, there are stables in Berkeley, as well as living quarters for many of the workers at the track.

Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison has proposed an ordinance, now before the council’s Health, Life Enrichment, Equity and Community Committee, that would establish a “racehorse protection policy,” decreasing the hours horses could be confined to stables and providing the animals other protections as well.

The facility “remains a disturbing display of sanctioned animal abuse,” according to an introduction to the proposed ordinance.

In this 2021 file photo, Scott Gilbertson, second from right, speaks of the dangers racetracks like Golden Gate Fields present, to horses and people with gambling addictions alike. Photo: Eden Teller

Eight horses have died at Golden Gate Fields this calendar year, according to the California Horse Racing Board. There were 15 horse deaths there in 2022, and 26 in 2021.

The racetrack was also the site of a major COVID-19 outbreak in late 2020. Of the approximately 540 people working there at the time, more than 300 tested positive in a three-week period at the end of November and beginning of December of that year.

“The job situation is a concern; we have low-wage workers there. I think they deserve retraining,” Harrison said in a phone interview Monday. “I would look forward to them being retrained and finding jobs that are safer.”

Even with the announced closure, the advocacy group Stop Bloodsports Bay Area said it would continue supporting the proposed ordinance.

“We believe that every horse deserves protection and care, and we won’t rest until this becomes a reality,” the group posted on Twitter Monday.

What will become of the property, which sits on over 100 acres between Albany and Berkeley, remains unknown.

“While it is too early to speculate what will replace Golden Gate Fields, priority right now must be on ensuring that workers are made whole and supported and that the horses are given proper care and relocation during the closure,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín wrote in a prepared statement Monday.

The Stronach Group has tried to unload Golden Gate Fields at least once before, pitching it in 2011 as a development site for a campus for the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which would have meant tearing down the track and possibly developing a hotel or shopping district.

Golden Gate Fields’ next scheduled live racing day is Aug. 26. The latest date for live racing on the racetrack’s calendar is Oct. 2.

Alex N. Gecan joined Berkeleyside in 2023 as a senior reporter covering public safety. He has covered criminal justice, courts and breaking and local news for The Middletown Press, Stamford Advocate and...