When I first walked through the employee entrance at Golden Gate Fields, it was like stepping into a private club. “The gates aren’t there to keep you out, but us in,” joked the security guard waving me through. And as I witnessed my first horse race between these intelligent and powerful animals, the allure of the sport became clear.
Situated between the cities of Berkeley and Albany, California, Golden Gate Fields has been an institution in the East Bay for seventy-five years. During weekdays, a quiet, smoky scene of seasoned gamblers, cowboys, cowgirls and horse owners pepper the arena. On weekends, the addition of families and millennials energize the track. Yet, these days it’s rare to see the stands completely filled as they once were. Controversy over the widespread mistreatment of horses has become a major reason for the decline in the sport’s attendance.
Arguably one of the oldest sporting events in the world, horse racing can be traced back to the Greek, Roman and Chinese Empires. For a time, horse racing was as popular as baseball in America. Today, the majority of people only recognize a few big races like the Kentucky Derby. For locals the Bay Area, Golden Gate Fields offers a window into the complicated sport that is horse racing.
‘Sport of the Kings’ — by Jason LeCras