It all began with TV ads for Dollar Sundays at Golden Gate Fields racetrack in Berkeley, California. We were Berkeley residents for over four years and we had never been there. It took repeated ads to get our attention!
Golden Gate Fields began operations in 1941 and sits on 180 acres of land along the San Francisco Bay (there are good view of SF and the Golden Gate bridge from here). The land used to be a Spanish ranch till 1850s, a location from where cattle used to be shipped across the bay for slaughter and an explosive powder company before it was turned into Golden Gate Fields racetrack. During World War II the area was used by the US Navy and racing resumed soon after the war. I later learnt that another racetrack named Bay Meadows used to operate in San Mateo, very close to where we now live. However, Bay Meadows was closed down in 2008 and Golden Gate Fields is currently the only operating horse racing track in Northern California. Occasionally they have promotional events here, like a dog race where you can bring your own dog to race!
There are different tiers of seating in Golden Gate Fields. On our first visit to the fields, we went on a Dollar Sunday when everything costs just a dollar – Beers, Sodas, Hot Dogs, Entrance fee, Parking, Programme, Tip Sheet, Minimum wager etc. Dollar Sundays are offered in winter months only. This is great and cheap opportunity to find out whats going on there. For the dollar entrance fee, you get to sit in the grandstands. This is closest to the action and you can almost hear the horses breathe! For a different but certainly affordable fee there are seating options in the Clubhouse and the Turf Club. For a very fancy outing, I would pick the Turf Club.
It was a very interesting first time for us and our friends. We figured out how to read the programme and place our wagers at the self-help kiosks. There is also a window where you can get help placing your bets. I suggest getting a tip sheet which will tip you off on which horses are likely to win. But remember, these are just tips and were never 100% true. The Golden Gate Fields website has a lot of information on placing wagers and the horse racing lingo. Read that to be a little clued-in. Part of our entertainment was watching seasoned bettors who sat glued to screens showing live races both here at the fields and elsewhere in Southern California. I think you can also bet on races being held in a few other locations. We experimented with $2 bets on different types – Win, Place, Show etc. – on races going on in front of our eyes. At the end of the day, we won 100% more than what we spent.
There are 8-9 races a day, the first one starting at noon. Standing beside the track with the sun in my face, the Berkeley hills right in the front and the glistening bay to my right, I learnt a lot about about things roll here – the bugle sounding, the parade of jockeys on their horses from the paddock following the lead pony, the placement and removal of the starting gate through which the horses burst forth when the start of the race is flagged etc. Wagering though on a very small scale, made the whole experience more interesting. We would randomly place our bets and stand by the track to cheer our horses on. Though it doesn’t have the glitz of Vegas, this is a thrill! To have your hearts race in tandem with the horse you bet on, you have to come out to a horse racing track like Golden Gate Fields!