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Golden Gate, Zia Park Racetracks Suspend Meets Due To COVID-19 Restrictions

James Murphy
by in Horses on
  • California’s Golden Gate Fields has cancelled all racing through the end of November due to COVID-19 restrictions.
  • New Mexico’s Zia Park has taken the same action after a two week shutdown order was issued by governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
  • Additional closures of North American horse tracks could be forthcoming.

The current racing meet at Golden Gate Fields has come to an abrupt end after track owners cancelled all scheduled dates until the end of November. This move followed an order issued earlier this week by Berkeley Public Health Division (BPHD) calling for an immediate one week pause to racing at the California track. As is the case in much of the country, California is in the midst of a resurgence of COVID-19 infections and state and local government has started to restrict ‘non essential’ activity in an effort to mitigate the spread.

There could be additional restrictions coming in California as well. Earlier today, governor Gavin Newsome imposed a ‘limited stay at home order’ on most of the state. The curfew in all but name requires ‘non essential work and other gatherings’ to cease between 10:00pm PST and 5:00am PST. The current order is to remain in effect until December 21, 2020 though it can be extended if circumstances justify. At this point, California’s racetracks should be able to continue operating under the order provided they stop running before 10 PM.

The bigger concern is additional restrictions on activity issued by the Governor Newsome who has throughout the pandemic has demonstrated a penchant for arbitrary, draconian–and dubiously effective–controls on the day to day activity of California’s citizens. The ‘curfew’…err…’limited stay at home order’ is a typically representative case in point as Newsome issues arbitrary edicts based on dubious reasoning with no real evidence of effectiveness. For now, the weekend race dates at Del Mar are still scheduled to take place but until the horses are in the starting gate there’s always a chance that some overreaching city, county or state agency will put the kibosh on spectator free racing. It was a questionable interpretation of a ‘stay at home’ order that closed California’s racing industry for two months earlier this year.

Back at Golden Gate, there’s much to suggest that the decision to cancel racing for the rest of the month is little more than a PR move and/or a pre-emptive move to preclude additional action by local health officials. The track has seen a number of positive COVID-19 tests along the backstretch though none have been found among the track’s administrative employees. At first glance, the closure might seem reasonable but keep in mind that Golden Gate will remain open for training and over 1,300 horses will continue to stable there. In other words, there will still be plenty of activity among workers to feed and care for the horses even if racing isn’t taking place.

The Golden Gate meet is set to run through December 13. Given the extent of California’s COVID-19 mitigation restrictions, the December dates are now clearly at risk. The Daily Racing Form reported that Golden Gate track officials were originally scheduled to meet on Thursday to work on rescheduling the stakes races set for the fall meet:

Track officials were scheduled to meet Thursday morning to discuss the rescheduling of missed stakes, including the six-furlong Golden Nugget for 2-year-olds, slated for Nov. 14; the six-furlong Oakland for 3-year-olds and up, set for this Saturday; the six-furlong Golden Gate Debutante for 2-year-old fillies, originally scheduled for Nov. 27; and the 1 1/16-mile Berkeley on Nov. 28.

Del Mar’s fall meet aka the ‘Bing Meet’ is scheduled to run through November 29.


Over in New Mexico, the Zia Park horse track is closing in response to a closure of the state’s gaming industry. Casinos and horse tracks are considered ‘non essential’ businesses and under the terms of a new ‘statewide order closing in-person services for all non-essential activities’ they won’t be allowed to operate until further notice. Officially, the new order is set to last just two weeks though there’s every reason to think it will be extended. At least the closure is less arbitrary than California’s as New Mexico’s definition of ‘non essential’ is one of the broadest currently in effect in the United States.

New Mexicans are instructed to stay at home except for only those trips that are essential to health, safety and welfare – such as for food and water, emergency medical care, to obtain a flu shot or to obtain a test for COVID-19.

The concern now is for the rest of the Zia Park meet which is scheduled to run through December 23. A statement released by the Penn National Gaming owned track wasn’t exactly reassuring:

Pursuant to restrictions put in place by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Zia Park’s current live racing meet has been suspended through November 30.

Effective Monday, November 16 all non-essential businesses, including horse racing, are required to cease in-person activities until the end of the month.

The current Zia Park race meet is scheduled to run through December 23. Further updates on the 2020 Zia Park racing schedule will be provided as they are made available.

Current training days and hours of operation will remain in effect.

For the most part, the Zia Park facility which also includes a hotel and casino has been closed since late March. New Mexico has over two dozen casinos throughout the state, most of which are owned by Native American tribes. They had only recently started to reopen their operations within the past month only to now be forced to shut down again. There are also commercial casinos operated at five of the six racetracks in New Mexico. The casinos operate under the auspices of the New Mexico Gaming Control Board while the tracks themselves are run by the New Mexico Racing Commission.

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