Golden Gate Fields: Energy, emotions and lots of stories

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And they’re off… the start of a race at Golden Gate Fields. Photo: Kaia Diringer

Kaia Diringer has worked as Berkeleyside’s photo intern for the past four months. One of her last assignments, which she chose herself, was to shoot at the Golden Gate Fields racetrack on the Berkeley-Albany border. Here, she writes about her impressions of the track, which she visited several times over the course of a few weeks:

I noticed the exit sign for Golden Gate Fields Racetrack the first time I drove down I-80 last fall and I was immediately curious. Horse racing didn’t really seem like a Berkeley thing to me. I grew up going to tracks like Laurel Park in Maryland — places that were rural or seemingly out of the way. But here was this racetrack, in a city on the bay, and so conveniently located.

Living off Gilman, I was always driving past it, but it always seemed  distant in some way, hard to see in, and even harder to imagine all that was going on inside.

I finally made it to Golden Gate Fields last month, having arranged to take photos that I hoped to share with Berkeleyside readers who may have been as intrigued as me.

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Photo: Kaia Diringer

When I walked into the stadium it was just as I had imagined it — as if I had stepped into a different era. The air felt stiller, as if time had stopped. The contrast before me was striking. Right in front of me lay the track and beyond that lay the beautiful Berkeley hills.

I started my first day at the track shooting photos of the morning workout. The sun was just rising, but the atmosphere was already busy as horses were led out of their stalls and jockeys adjusted stirrups. Trainers leaned against the rail, chatting with each other over cups of coffee, timers in hand. I was an outsider but was surprised to find that I was greeted with warm smiles and offers of help.

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Photo: Kaia Diringer

The first race started at 12:45 so I had time to look at the day’s racing program. They had provided a step-by-step guide to placing a bet for first-timers. Names like “He’s Cagey,” “Justalittleloopy” and “You Better Run” gave the horses something to live up to. A quiet murmuring began as each horse was led into the paddock. The regulars were keeping their thoughts to themselves as the beginners tried to analyse which horse was a winner.

[View a gallery of photos taken at Golden Gate Fields by Kaia Diringer.]

It’s hard to capture the essence of a race. The energy levels rise and all eyes and ears are drawn forward as the horses are loaded into the gate. You feel your heart jump as the bell rings and the announcer calls “and they’re off!” As the horses round the bend, the crowd roars and the hooves pound the ground.

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Photo: Kaia Diringer

One of my favorite parts of my three days at the track was hearing the stories. One security guard told me of scratching an itch a horse couldn’t seem to reach and how it laid its big head on his shoulder and let out a deep sigh. Jockeys told me of being injured and not being able to ride, of how their bodies continued to wake up at the same time and yearned to get back in the saddle. A former jockey told me he didn’t miss racing because he could actually eat now.

I guess that part of me wanted to show there’s more to the racetrack than gambling. But you won’t really know until you go. You won’t understand the thrill of the track until you’re right there on it, watching the horses enter the final stretch and holding your breath for a winner.

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Photo: Kaia Diringer

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Photo: Kaia Diringer

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Photo: Kaia Diringer

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  • guest

    My grandfather was a gambling addict. He lost tons on the ponies. The stable workers are abused. The horses take more drugs than Lance Armstrong. The track owners are just hanging on until they can turn it into a mall. It is a sad shell of its horrible past.

  • guest

    What do your grandfather’s vices have to do with anything?

  • curiousjorge

    nothing at all. he’s just doing his part to represent the trolls who sh*t on every article that isn’t gloomy enough for their taste.

  • The_Sharkey

    Dollar Day is one of my favorite ways to spend a lazy summer Sunday.

    I’m not much of a gambler, but being at the track can be a lot of fun even if you aren’t betting on the races.

    http://www.goldengatefields.com/events/2011-01-23/dollar-day

  • sue

    No troll, just not a fan of horse racing. Like greyhound racing, once gambling is involved the animals often come out the loser. I agree with “guest”, the horses probably do take more drugs than Lance Armstrong, and that can’t be good for them. When they don’t win, I wonder if they still send them to the glue factory. I don’t really wonder about that, but what does happen to a lot of them?

  • Guest

    Unfounded allegation with zero fact. Complaining about people having fun. Why not just an hero instead of boring the rest of us?

  • guest

    These allegations are not unfounded.

    For the allegation that stable workers are abused, here is some evidence:

    http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/behind-racetrack-tough-existence-backstretch-workers-12174

  • guest

    Gambling addiction is a serious problem in California.

    http://today.ucla.edu/portal/ut/gambling-addicts-suffer-from-brain-190668.aspx

  • guest

    http://therail.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/14/what-to-do-with-all-those-horses/

    …a long crowded van ride to Mexico or Canada, and then face death in ways even more barbaric…

  • Jack Garfinkle

    AS A LONG TIME TRACK AND HORSE AFICIONADO , YOUR PICTURES DID A MARVELOUS JOB OF CAPTURING THE COLOR AND FLAVOR OF RACING.GREAT JOB.

  • http://twitter.com/kinglet749 kinglet749

    A lot of them are bred on their farms, if they did well, and live out their elder days out to pasture. Is this different than someone having a dog? Most of us don’t get dogs to make the dogs happy… we do it to make ourselves happy. We give our dogs drugs all the time to keep them “healthy”… flea meds, heartworm meds, antibiotics. And then when they’re old, we put them down. Is horse racing really that different?

  • RedStater

    Ignore the leftie loons. They just want something new to hate now that they can’t blame Bush any more.