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2018 Update

In horse racing there has always been a east coast west coast rivalry more specifically California vs New York. So why should the origin of horse racing in North America be any different? It is documented that a one mile oval was constructed at Pleasanton in 1858 which would predate Saratoga Race Course by five years making it the oldest track in the United States.

The modern history of horse racing in California began in 1933 when pari-mutual wagering was legalized. Again the California Fairs led the way when the San Joaquin Fair in Stockton became the first California Track to offer wagering in August of 1933.

Soon after pari-mutual wagering was legalized existing tracks Pomona Fair and Tanforan were running meets. By the end of 1934 new sites Bay Meadows near San Francisco and Santa Anita near Los Angeles were opened for business. Within a few years additional tracks sprang up Del Mar near San Diego, Hollywood Park in Los Angeles and Golden Gate Fields in Albany.

With the demise of the New England Fair Circuit California stands alone in running the only extended fair meets in the country with racing at seven venues in the summer months in Northern California.

The state also has a racetrack at Los Alamitos that runs quarter horse races. Harness racing was also introduced at Golden Bear Raceway now called Cal-Expo in Sacramento. Some of the major tracks like Hollywood Park and Bay Meadows ran harness races at one time but they never seemed to catch on.

Except for the World War II period when most of the California Tracks used for military purposes most are still conducting racing with the exception of Tanforan which burned to the ground in 1964 and Bay Meadows which closed in 2008.

In 2011 racing remained status quo in California, but racing seemed far from solvent. Shorter fields and fewer days were more the rule in 2011. In fact if not for the poor economic climate both Hollywood Park and Golden Gate Fields would probably have been sold for development. Even historic Santa Anita Park is fighting for it's survival as developers keep chipping away at it's boundaries 

If you don't live or spend a lot of time in California, it would be quite difficult to see live racing at all the tracks in the state. It's not even that easy to do the "I was there" thing, but California keeps trying to make it easier, they have closed four tracks in recent years.

Say you were starting from San Diego, (after visiting all the tracks in Arizona) you could probably do the Southern California tracks in a day, without staying long for live racing if any at all. Del Mar is about a half hour from San Diego, from there it's about an hour and a half to Cypress, the home of Los Alamitos. Now you would have to decide if you wanted to spend the two hours to go to the site of Hollywood Park and then to Fairplex Park in Pomona. Both tracks are closed for good and Hollywood Park might not have a sign that it ever existed, at least Fairplex will still have a grandstand. From Pomona, it's a short half hour to Santa Anita, which they make you think is a mountain resort but is really in the middle of a residential area. That does it for Southern California, now off to the Bay Area.

The most logical route would be to head for Fresno, which is about four hours from Arcadia, but remember this is California, times may vary. I would suggest if you only get to do this once, to take Route 1, the scenic ocean route to the Bay Area. From Fresno the next stop is Stockton, about two hours away, after that your about an hour away from the rest of your stops in Sacramento, Vallejo, Pleasanton, San Mateo where Bay Meadows, once existed, you might consider missing this one. The only thing there is a side street named Baze Road, whether it's named after Russell Baze or just a coincidence, who knows, certainly not me. Whatever you decide Golden Gate Fields would be the next stop, then finish up at Santa Rosa and rest for the last leg, if you get there early enough you can drive some golf balls in the infield.

All you have left is a four hour ride to Ferndale, for the Humboldt County Fairground. From there you can just keep going into Oregon, it's a long way back to San Diego. If you follow the route above you will have deprived yourself a seven dollar toll to go over the Golden Gate Bridge, actually if you only go over it going North it's free.

2018 Update

Obviously the big news here is that the old Hollywood Park Site, will be the home of the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. So if you never made it there, you missed your chance, although there is still a Hollywood Park OTB on the original property, only cost you six bucks to get in. Hollywood Park hosted the first Breeders Cup back in 1984. Up the coast a bit, you also wont find Bay Meadows Race Track, but you will find Bay Meadows Village. To round out the closures, the fair at Solano terminated horse racing, as well as the Los Angeles Fair at Fairplex, or as it was originally known as Pomona. Both of the fair sites still have their grandstands. Other changes were made to compensate for these loses.

Los Alamitos Race Course in Cypress, completed an expansion to it's racing surface and took over the Fairplex dates, as well as a short summer and winter meet to race some of the Hollywood Park schedule. At Del Mar they added a winter meet named after track founder Bing Crosby. As for the California Fair tracks there has been some date shuffling, but with the exception of Solano, they are still running. One significant change was the transfer of the Oak Tree meet a long time fixture at Santa Anita over to the Pleasanton Fairgrounds. As for Santa Anita, it and Golden Gates have picked up dates from local closings. The later only staying in business after Cal-Tech rejected it as an expansion site. California racing does seem to be on the decline, so if you haven't been to some of these places, don't dally!

As for harness racing, California has the only meet west of the Mississippi. It once looked like it was finished but Cal-Expo is still alive and well. Over the years harness racing was conducted at most of the major California tracks.