05/11/2008 11:00PM

Focus on luring new fans


ALBANY, Calif. - Golden Gate Fields general manager Robert Hartman views the track's 30-day meet that opens Wednesday with a sense of opportunity and responsibility for the Northern California racing industry, which will change dramatically next year if Bay Meadows closes as expected.

The Tapeta surface installed last summer and used for the first time last fall continues to win raves from horsemen, and, just as inventor Michael Dickinson suggests, seems to be getting better.

"Training here in the offseason has been spectacular," Hartman said. "Horses have been coming off the track well. We've brought in new equipment, and we've learned the surface needs more water than we originally expected."

Hartman said the track is using 20,000 gallons of water daily, which is one-tenth the amount used on the old dirt track.

The track is trying to expand its appeal to fans with the new Wizard's Sports Bar in the clubhouse. Hartman sees the bar as a place for bettors to congregate, and said it's one of the improvements that have been made to the facility in anticipation of Golden Gate picking up more racing dates with the expected closure of Bay Meadows. Wizard's will be a full-service bar with 30 flat-screen televisions showing races from across the country as well as a variety of sports events.

The track is also resuming its popular "Dollar Day" promotion on Sundays with $1 parking, admission, programs, beer, and hot dogs. The track also plans live entertainment on May 25 and closing day, June 22.

"When we did this before, we attracted new fans," Hartman said. "Fans are part of the racing experience. Everyone from fans to employees likes the atmosphere when the grandstand is full."

Fans also like good racing, and Hartman and racing secretary Sean Greely are confident there will be good-sized fields for the meet, even though a recruiting trip to Arizona to attract trainers to Golden Gate Fields and the summer fair circuit only had "mixed success."

"A lot of trainers from Arizona went to Canterbury primarily because of the cost of living in Minnesota compared with the Bay Area," Hartman said.

Greely's opening-day card averaged nine entrants per race, dipping to 7.1 on Thursday.

"Typically, it picks up after the second week," Greely said.

The Tapeta track will help attract entries, and Greely said the turf course will be used to the fullest, although he will limit the number of turf sprints.

The track put its signature event, the Grade 2 San Francisco Mile, on hold for a year because it conflicts with other similar races, but will offer two Grade 3 races, the $150,000 Berkeley on May 26 and the $100,000 Golden Gate Fields Turf on May 31.