Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Solano helps out Golden Gate Fields

Not just Horsing Around

Solano helps out Golden Gate Fields

By Danny Bernardini/Staff Writer

Article Launched: 08/17/2007 07:00:02 AM PDT

A groomer exercises a horse during a morning training session on the track at the Solano County...

Before Golden Gate Fields in Albany started construction on a track with a synthetic surface, they had to answer one large question:

What would they do, meanwhile, with the 1,300 or so horses stabled there?

The answer soon came and the horses were moved to three other Bay Area stables, one of them at the Solano County Fairgrounds in Vallejo.

On typical summer days at the Vallejo stables and track, the place sits empty except for a few golfers hitting the links on the 9-hole course within the racetrack.

Strolling through those stables this year means coming face to face with roughly 525 race horses and more than 100 employees, some of which are living on the grounds just outside the stable area.

Clotheslines full of tattered rags used on the horses are strung across the walkways full of hay and dirt.

A lone goat meandered near one stable, nibbling on spilled horse food. Goats can be used as a calming agent for the horses, acting as a reminder of farm life.

In one area, four horses are tethered to a merry-go-round of sorts on a "hot walk" for a little extra exercise after their morning workout.

Stall Superintendent Anita Ortega said there was a lot of legwork involved in getting the grounds ready, but things have run smoothly since the horses arrived in mid-July.

She said that because many of the horses are accustomed to traveling on the county fair circuit, it has been easy to adjust. And some, she said, don't know any better.

"The majority of the horses are pretty even-tempered. Since they are yearlings, they know nothing else," Ortega said. "I don't think it's traumatic. Some even run better when you ship them. They run and they run well."

Most of the 870 stalls at Vallejo, built in the 1950s, had to be repaired before moving the horses in, said Joe Barkett, Solano County Fair Manager. The fair also had four portable trailers put on the grounds so the handlers had somewhere to sleep. Some opted to bring their own camper trailers which are parked nearby.

To accommodate the guests, the fair is spending between $600,000 and $700,000 which Barkett said the California Horse Racing Board has assured will be refunded. Barkett said small percentages of horse racing profits throughout the year were set aside to facilitate the boarding.

"We anticipate we will be fully reimbursed for our costs," Barkett said.

The reason the racing board is involved is that it was their ruling that forced track upgrades at facilities such as Golden Gate Fields.

In 2006, the California Horse Racing Board mandated that all five of California's major thoroughbred tracks that hold four weeks or more of racing install synthetic surfaces, which are proven to be safer for horses and riders, by Jan. 31, 2008.

The synthetic track is made up of wax-coated synthetic materials and features a vertical drainage system that allows water to pour through the surface, rather than off to the side.

Because the Solano County Fairgrounds only hosts racing two weeks a year, they weren't included. Horses also are being housed at the Pleasanton Fairgrounds and Bay Meadows Racetrack. Bay Meadows was not included in the upgrades because the track is set to close in the next year or two.

Barkett said the $7 million to $10 million upgrade was supposed to start in June and last until Labor Day, but negotiations took longer than expected.

"We thought for a while it wouldn't happen," he said.

Now, the Solano fairgrounds is scheduled to host the horses until the middle of October, when Golden Gate Fields is set to re-open.

"That's about as late as it can go," he said. "They have to have it done."

Although Barkett said it is unlikely that it will rain in September or October, there would be some issues if it happened. Leaky roofs, mud and uneven ground leading to large puddles would be something that would have to be addressed if the area got rain.

"There was some concern about significant rain," Barkett said. "We'll deal with it of course, but it could be an inconvenience."

Danny Bernardini can be reached at

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