Fair time means horse races | June 22, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - June 22, 2012

Fair time means horse races

Venue is oldest continuous one-mile track in U.S.

by Dennis Miller

This week saw the start for horse racing at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton on the oldest continuous operating one-mile race track in the United States.

There is a rich history of racing in Pleasanton, featuring some of the top horses -- be it thoroughbred or trotters -- training or racing.

It is documented that in 1858 a race track was built by Don Refugio Bernal in the Amador Valley. In 2009, Pleasanton celebrated 150 Years of Racing at the Oldest One Mile Track in America -- dating back to 1858.

The property bounced around the Bernal family until 1876 or 1877 when the track was sold to Joseph F. Nevis, who had married into the Bernal family. Nevis has been credited with improving the track to regulation specifications and operating the track as a business.

It was also during this time a Jockey Club was formed.

In 1883, Monroe Salisbury, a very wealthy Australian horse breeder, purchased the track for $25,000. It was during this time horse owners from the East began to ship their horses west for training during the poor weather months as well as for some racing.

Trotting or harness racing was big at this time as a number of world champions either training or racing came to Pleasanton.

Sunol, owned by Leland Stanford, was the first Cal-bred trotter to become a world champion. Other trotters or pacers like Director, Direct, Directum and Directly were all owned by Salisbury and were all world champions.

As the property's ownership continued to change hands over the years, improvements were made to the track and barns were added.

The biggest improvements came in 1911 when Rodney G. MacKenzie bought the track and proceeded to spend over $250,000 to build a grandstand and stable area for a large number of horses. Among the many improvements MacKenzie made was the construction of a trotter racing track.

From 1916-32, the track was leased for a variety of events, including training, plus automobile and motorcycle races. In 1926 MacKenzie died and left the ownership of the track to his family.

In 1922 Morvich became the first California-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby, and the horse trained over the winter months in Pleasanton before heading East to win the Derby.

The Derby was the 12th straight win for Morvich -- the top 2-year-old in 1921 -- but it was also the last race Morvich would win as a 3-year-old, finishing the year 1-for-5.

Other thoroughbreds associated with Pleasanton included Runstar, who won the $100,000 Coffroth Handicap in Tijuana; Carlaris -- winner of the $50,000 Tijuana Derby, as well as the Coffroth; Teralis -- winner of many East Coast stakes races; and Indian Brown -- the former world-record holder at 1-1/8 miles.

The next big moment for horse racing came in 1933 when pari-mutuel wagering was passed into state law in California.

It was also in the 1930s that famed racehorse Seabiscuit trained at Pleasanton as he was prepping for his big West Coast races.

In 1939, the Alameda County Fair Association was formed and the "The Alameda County Agricultural Fair and Horse Show" was held in August. Many of those associated with the horse racing are names that are known today.

Everett Nevin and Sam J. Whiting continue to have stakes races named after them today and Al Caffodio was active in not just the Fair, but all sorts of youth sports. As an honor to his effort, the first highly competitive youth soccer league in the Tri-Valley was named "The Al Caffodio League."

The grandstand at the Fair initially held 2,500, but by 1941, there was a new grandstand that seated 5,000.

Throughout the years, more money was allotted to the construction of new horse barns.

Finally in 1963 the old wooden grandstands were torn down and the current structure was erected. Seating capacity was raised to almost 7,000 in the new facility.

There have been setbacks along the way in the barn area as there were a couple of fires. In 1952 there was a fire that claimed the lives of 10 horses and burned a number of stalls. In 1965, another fire destroyed a lot of stalls, but no horses were lost.

By the time 1970 rolled around more than $750,000 was allotted to construct a new barn area, further away from the track with more stalls.

Harness racing finally came to an end at the Fair following the 1968 meet. From there, the Fair racing has continued to grow in terms of its status as one of the top Fair meets in Northern California.

In 1992, Casual Lies, owned and trained by Shelley Riley, did all of his prep work at Pleasanton on the way to finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Preakness Stakes and fifth in the Belmont Stakes.

The success put both Riley and the Pleasanton track in the national spotlight and even forced a security camera to be installed around the barn area where Casual Lies lived.

After Bay Meadows race track in San Mateo was closed in August 2008, Pleasanton became more prominent as a training track, picking up a number of horses.

It was in 2008 that Pleasanton received the official designation as the Primary Auxiliary Training Facility for Northern California. In late 2008, Pleasanton absorbed a majority of the horses that had been training at Bay Meadows.

In 2009, Pleasanton received a third week of Fair Time Racing when the Solano County Fair ceased operating its Race Meet. Talk continues about additional racing dates at the Pleasanton track outside the Alameda County Fair, but at this point nothing has been decided.

The Alameda County Fair Association has received numerous national and international awards for its creative marketing, programming and community outreach.


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