06/11/2013 12:06PM

Golden Gate: Morris looks back at tenure as general manager


Heading into his final week as general manager at Golden Gate Fields before assuming a new role with the Thoroughbred Owners of California, Joe Morris is whipping and driving to the finish line like Johnny Longden aboard George Royal in his last race as a jockey.

“It’s been a great meet,” said Morris, who has helped revitalize the track in his two-year stint as general manager. “Field size and handle are up, even though attendance is down a bit.”

The Golden Gate meet began Dec. 26 and ends Sunday.

Morris approached his time at Golden Gate by writing up a series of strategies to change the culture at the track. Although he is a hands-on executive, he is quick to note that the success the track has enjoyed has been a team effort.

“We made a lot of changes,” he said.

Morris is proud that the horses stabled at Golden Gate ran often and didn’t just train and sit in the barn.

“If you look at starts per stall, we’re as good as anyone in the country,” he said.

Morris tried different marketing promotions, including making the El Camino Real Derby the glamour race of the meeting, rather than the San Francisco Mile. But he wasn’t afraid to continue tried-and-true promotion successes such as Dollar Sundays, when admission and concessions are $1.

He worked at improving food and services throughout the plant as well as making it a much friendlier place for fans. Morris said the attitude of employees and horsemen has turned around since he first came to Golden Gate, and the track was among the sites being considered for a new laboratory being built by the University of California-Berkeley.

“A couple years ago, we were under a cloud,” he said.

“I’ve greatly enjoyed my time here. We’ve begun to turn the place around. It’s taken cooperation from the horsemen, the jockeys, our employees, the unions, management.”