10/16/2012 1:10PM

Golden Gate: New stakes, shipping bonus meant to attract more horses to fall meet

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The 34-day Golden Gate Fields meet begins Thursday, and as usual attracting enough horses to fill races is the primary concern of racing secretary David Jerkens.

At least he doesn’t have to worry about the seven-race opening-day card, which attracted 66 runners, an average of 9.4 runners per race. Saturday’s first stakes, the $50,000 Miss America, attracted 19 nominees.

Golden Gate Fields general manager Joe Morris and Jerkens said they have implemented several strategies to attract horses to Golden Gate Fields.

The most innovative is what they call the “Ship-Run-Win” program, which offers a $600 bonus – $300 to the owner and $300 to the trainer – to the connections of an out-of-state horse that comes to Golden Gate Fields and wins its first start at the track.

Morris said that the track is targeting Northwestern trainers and has had interest in the program from trainers based at Emerald Downs.

Golden Gate also has created a new $100,000 2-year-old filly race, scheduled for Oct. 27. The Pike Place Dancer is a one-mile turf race that Morris said was put together in cooperation with Southern California tracks, the fairs, and the California Marketing Commission. It is hoped that the race will entice trainers to ship juvenile fillies to California with their Breeders’ Cup entrants to take advantage of the $100,000 purse. The Breeders’ Cup will be run the following week, Nov. 2-3, at Santa Anita.

The fall meet will offer seven stakes, including one other $100,000 race, the All American for older runners going 1 1/16 miles on the Tapeta main track Nov. 23.

Morris said he will ask the California Horse Racing Board for permission to race two more days this meet, Thursday, Dec. 13, and Friday, Dec. 14, which would expand the meet to 36 days. Adding those two days would allow Golden Gate to race Thursday-Sunday for the entire meet, which ends Dec. 16. As of now, the track is slated to run only on Saturday and Sunday during closing week.

Morris, who took over as general manager at Golden Gate last October, said that one of his goals was to stem steep declines in handle from the previous few years. He largely succeeded at the recent 17-day summer meet, which posted a decline in daily average all-sources handle of 1 percent from 2011. A big increase in account wagering from both in state and out of state helped offset a 10 percent drop in ontrack wagering on Golden Gate’s races.

Golden Gate has run about the same number of races going into the fall meet as it did all of last year, and daily all-sources handle is down by less than 1 percent.

“Things are improving,” Morris said. “We’ve turned around the financial situation, the handle being part of that. Our food and beverage services are popular with racegoers, and group sales are up.”