12/22/2016 11:10AM

Golden Gate Fields emphasis on 3-year-olds

Barbara D. Livingston
Golden Gate will host 12 stakes during its winter-spring meet.

Golden Gate Fields opens its winter-spring meet on the usual date – Monday, Dec. 26 – but the meet runs for an extra week in 2017, closing on June 18 – Father’s Day.

“It’s important to us,” said Calvin Rainey, track assistant general manager and vice president, regarding the extra week.

First post Monday is 12:15 p.m. Pacific. There is no stakes on the nine-race opening-day card, but there are two allowance races – one for 2-year-old fillies going six furlongs (race 2) and the other a first-level allowance for 3-year-olds and up going a mile on turf (race 7).

Golden Gate races mostly on Thursdays-Sundays, with a first post most days of 12:45 p.m.

The stakes program for the winter-spring meet comprises 12 stakes, six of them for 3-year-olds. The $100,000 California Derby on Jan. 21 and the Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 18 are likely to attract some of California’s Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Frank Conversation won last year’s California Derby and El Camino Real Derby. He went on to become one of Southern California’s top 3-year-old turf runners.

The El Camino Real Derby awards 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner.

“The Derby trail is important, and we hope we can continue to develop horses that are on it,” Rainey said.

Last year’s meeting had a pick six carryover with a mandatory payout of well more than $1 million on the final day. But two turf races during the sequence had to be moved to the main track when jockeys refused to ride after expressing concerns about course safety, turning the bet into a pick four and eliminating a possible headline-grabbing payout.

Rainey says the track learned from the situation and will monitor the condition of the course closely with jockeys. He added that the track might cut back on the number of consecutive turf races earlier in the meet, which could have been a factor in the deterioration of the course last year.

Golden Gate has increased stabling capacity to 1,500 to accommodate an expected influx of horses from Pleasanton. The California Horse Racing Board recently decided to suspend paying for shipping costs during much of the winter for horsemen based at Pleasanton. With no money from the vanning and stabling fund to defray shipping expenses from Jan. 15 to May 1, horsemen who usually train at Pleasanton are expected to stable this meet at Golden Gate.

Rainey said he sympathizes with the trainers who might be uprooted from their familiar Pleasanton location, but he hopes that having virtually all Northern California-based horses at Golden Gate might lead to an increase in field size.