12/22/2011 3:45PM

Golden Gate eager to build on strong fall meeting


With a new – albeit interim – general manager and new racing secretary, Golden Gate Fields approaches its 101-day winter-spring meeting with a new energy. The Golden Gate meeting begins Monday and runs through June 17.

Golden Gate comes off a fall meet that ended with a 14 percent increase in ontrack handle and a 13 percent increase in attendance from 2010.

“This gives us momentum heading into the 2011-2012 winter-spring season,” interim general manager Joe Morris said.

David Jerkens, the new racing secretary, takes over with a purse structure 2 percent higher across the board than during last year’s winter-spring meeting and an increase of $150,000 in purses for the stakes program.

Said Morris: “Our intent is to hold that purse level the whole year.”

Morris said Golden Gate is trying to recruit more horses in hopes of increasing average field size to 7.5 from the average of 7.33 during the 36-day fall meeting.

“We’ll be going to different tracks in Southern California, Arizona, Washington and Canada to let trainers know what we’re offering,” Jerkens said. “We have a great climate here and the best synthetic track in California.”

Golden Gate Fields will offer 10 stakes at the upcoming meet, one more than last year, and Morris and Jerkens said they hope to offer additional overnight stakes.

Golden Gate Fields also is introducing a pick five – called the Players’ Pick Five – which will have a 50-cent minimum and be offered on the final five races of the day. The exotic wager has a low 14 percent takeout.

Looking ahead to the summer meeting, which begins in August, Morris said the track will try twilight racing. Morris said the track will honor millionaire Bold Chieftain in January. He also said the track will try to promote the presence of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer as well as Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze. The two won titles at the recently concluded fall meet. Baze, the all-time winningest rider, rode 50 winners for his 41st riding title, and Hollendorfer saddled 37 winners for his 39th training title.

“We have a treasure here in Russell Baze,” Morris said. “We’re the only major-league sport with its leader still active.”