Bengie Molina

Golden Gate Fields: like the Boardwalk, only with gambling

golden-gate-fields-horse-raceIn my six years living in Santa Cruz (1998-2004), my favorite source of cheap entertainment was the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (along with the Skyview Drive In, which closed unfortunately after a glorious run of $6 double features under the stars). 50-cent night, which changed to 60-cent night during my senior year at UCSC, was a gift from the heavens to someone making $9/hr in college and not much more than that after graduating. On the special days where the Boardwalk dropped their prices on rides, hot dogs, sodas and cotton candy to 60 cents apiece, one could effectively entertain themselves and fill their stomachs while spending less than $10. And on warm summer nights the Boardwalk is like an outdoor tavern with rides, where anyone who looks older than 21 can quaff tall cans of beer between rides on the Giant Dipper.

Yesterday SGL and I went to one of Golden Gate Fields’ Sunday Dollar Days for the first time, and I think I’ve finally found a place to satisfy my Boardwalk fix without driving an hour and a half. Or at all. Two BART tickets and a free shuttle to the track were all we needed, although $1 parking and a half-empty lot mean that the only drawback to taking your rig to GGF is the amount of traffic that plagues the Bay Bridge on Sunday evenings.

golden-gate-fields-end-of-raceOnce through the turnstiles, I felt like I was transported back to the home of Logger’s Revenge and free Eddie Money concerts, only instead of an ocean view the surroundings consist of a gorgeous race track and the Berkeley Hills. How had I not made the voyage to this oasis before? With the grandstand protecting us from the wind, temperatures felt like they were in the mid-70’s in the sun, and with a half hour to go until the next race it was time to get some dollar tokens in hopes of quenching our thirst.

I expected lines for the $1 brews, dogs, sodas and Cracker Jack, and that was perhaps the best part of the entire experience — there weren’t any. Short lines (if any) for anything, be it the wooden dollar tokens used to buy the cheap stuff, the refreshments themselves or even the betting windows. Oh yes, we gambled. High rollers, the two of us, as we each made one or two $2-bets before six races, meaning we probably spent about $30 on wagering. We weren’t really the best racing prognosticators most of the time, with all of SGL’s picks falling flat and my system of choosing two favorites (always including legendary jockey Russell Baze) for the exacta coming up short five times.

But remember, we bet on six races — I won my second exacta try, as Flirting For Love won and Baze rode Cavanaugh to show, in the process making yours truly $24 on a $2 bet. That’s all it took — I’m hooked. Soon I’m going to be one of those guys shuffling around the track on weekdays with holes in my shoes, a wrinkled up racing form in my hand and an empty wallet in my pocket. I’m going to be a lifer!

golden-gate-fields-2Alright, maybe not. The win was awesome, but I was still more excited about the atmosphere and the fact that there isn’t one bad viewing angle at Golden Gate Fields. Every area in the grandstand was open, and I swear they’re using old seats from Candlestick Park (sort of like how old cop cars become taxis). GGF has the full horse racing package: the bugle, a large paddock to watch the horses walk around and see which horse is lethargic or acting bratty (contrary to what you might think, just because a horse is thrashing his head around and acting wild doesn’t mean he’ll run faster than an equine Bengie Molina), all along with enough cheap Bud Light and hot dogs to kill John Daly.

With the owner of the only racetrack in Northern California recently filing for bankruptcy, one has to wonder if this relic from the past can survive much longer. After all, Bay Area land is always at a premium, and horse racing is hardly the top three American pastime it used to be along with baseball and boxing. For those reasons, I’m going to have to go against my instincts and implore all of you to check out Dollar Sundays. Sure, the lines might be longer, the shuttle from BART may end up being even more crowded and it might be more difficult to get refreshments AND make your wagers between EVERY race. But since I don’t plan on moving to Santa Cruz and frequenting the Boardwalk two nights a week anytime soon, I need to ensure that GGF doesn’t go the way of Bay Meadows. So Bay Area residents, grab $20 and a friend and get out to the track. Even if you don’t win any of your bets, you’ll feel like a winner every time you bite into a dollar dog.

And if we’re counting, that means I felt like a winner three times yesterday.

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