10/18/2011 2:30PM

Golden Gate Fields: New GM eyes ways to boost business


Coming off a brief but locally successf ul 22-day summer meeting and with a new interim general manager in Joe Morris, Golden Gate Fields hopes to continue its momentum during a 36-day fall-winter meet that begins Thursday and runs to Dec. 18.

The meeting begins what is a run of nearly nine months at Golden Gate Fields, which begins its traditional winter-spring meet on Dec. 26 continuing through mid-June 2012.

The first stakes of the meeting comes Saturday with the $50,000 Oakland Stakes, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up over the track’s Tapeta surface. The meet highlight is the Grade 3, $100,000 All American Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles. Golden Gate carded eight races for opening day, all for claimers. A total of 63 horses were entered.

Morris replaces Robert Hartman, who ended a six-year term as Golden Gate general manager earlier this month to become chief executive officer of the American Contract Bridge League. Morris brings a wealth of racing experience in both the Standardbred and Thoroughbred industry to his new position as vice president of operations and sales with track owner the Stronach Group, including a stint with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

Morris has a home in Kentucky that borders Keeneland, and he races both Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds. He will live in Berkeley, Calif., near the track while serving as the interim general manager.

Morris says that he will be involved in long-range planning as well as day-to-day operat ions.

He says the track is on the “wrong side of profitability,” but noted that owner Frank Stronach is committed to racing in Northern California.

Golden Gate Fields sits on a very valuable piece of land on San Francisco Bay. The site is one of six finalists to become the location of a campus for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and if that were to happen the track would be torn down and relocated, according to multiple reports.

“Obviously, we have that hanging over our head, but my job is to run the racetrack and make it more viable,” said Morris.

Among Morris’s plans to increase business are to target the various ethnic groups in the area, attract more big bettors, and increase the number of horse owners by, among other things, strengthening the stakes program. At least one stakes will be added to the winter-spring meet schedule, he said.

“I thought the problem was not enough horses, but I think the problem is shortage of owners,” he said.

Morris said he would like to look at adding a pick five and possibly coming up with guaranteed pools for special days.