Oak Tree Racing, now in its second year partnering with the Alameda County Fair and the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF) on a 12-day meet during the fair, has always been considered an elite horse racing organization.
And deservedly so, as its Oak Tree at Santa Anita racing meet each year was one of the biggest and most respected in the world.
The group had four Breeders' Cup events at Santa Anita, with the last one they held in 2009, capped by Zenyatta beating the boys in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
But less than one year later after Oak Tree had been running meets for 41 years at Santa Anita, Frank Stronach's ownership group took the fall dates away from Oak Tree in order to run the fall meet itself.
Many in the racing community were stunned, but no one more so than the Oak Tree community. And this came not long after Oak Tree had put $3 million into a fund for a new turf course at Santa Anita.
"It's kind of a subject I am still bruised with," said Sherwood Chillingworth, a director and the executive vice president of Oak Tree. "I had been there for 22 years and had covered payrolls that Santa Anita couldn't. Then we put the money in for a new surface and didn't get anything."
What has turned out to be Santa Anita's loss has certainly become Pleasanton's gain.
After running one meet at Hollywood Park in 2010, Oak Tree did not have a meet from 2011 to 2013. It was around the end of that time Oak Tree got a call from Chris Korby, CARF executive director.
"We were approached by CARF and they suggested we should look to the north," explained John Barr, director and president of the Oak Tree board. "We looked at what there was, and Pleasanton was the only place we felt that there could be a future with."
Oak Tree's inception came in the late 1960s when a group led by the late Clement Hirsch saw a need for help in horse racing. There was a lull in the racing dates following the end of the Del Mar summer meet and the start of the Santa Anita winter meet.
Since horse racing is a sport where most people involved are getting paid only when meets are running, Oak Tree saw a need to increase revenue producing meets for all the workers.
The fall meet was a hit right away and Oak Tree began to flourish, gaining national recognition. Hirsch developed the Oak Tree motto of "Horsemen helping horsemen," and that was evident right from the start in Pleasanton.
Oak Tree contributed money for capital improvements like the new Winner's Circle, enlarged Directors Lounge and slurry sealing of the pavement on the lower level. Oak Tree also helped increase the purse structure.
In addition, Oak Tree, which gave over $38 million to philanthropic endeavors during its time at Santa Anita, gave away checks every day to nonprofit organizations throughout Alameda County last year during the County Fair.
With Oak Tree, what you see is what you get a dedicated group of people that love horse racing and fully believe it is not just helping the industry, but others as well.
"We have always felt like (horse racing) is a sportsman-like industry," Chillingworth said. "We always try to do as much as we can."
For most years, fair-goers were used to two weeks of racing, with a third being added in the recent past. Barr and Chillingworth are hoping to bridge the transition from having just casual racing fans attend Pleasanton races to seeing many of the fair visitors become full-fledged racing fans.
"The only problem I saw last year was that many of (the fair-goers) do not bet a lot," Chillingworth said with a laugh. "We really would like to make horse racing a major feature at the fair. We want people to try and learn more about betting. We would love Pleasanton to be on the level with the big tracks."
Part of the combined Oak Tree/Alameda County Fair plan is for the fair racing dates to have national exposure. A deal has been set with national horse racing television channel TVG to show all races from the fifth race on each day with the exception of Thursdays.
Barr said he is excited about the way the two groups have been working together on the common goal.
"We have more combined marketing efforts this year and it will help both sides," Barr said. "Hopefully this year will be even better. If we can get more people into the fair this year, hopefully they will make a wager or two."
As for what lies ahead for the partnership of Oak Tree and the Alameda County Fair, much is to be determined. But one thing is for sure, the Oak Tree community has blended well with the Pleasanton group.
"I have nothing but great things to say about everyone in Pleasanton," said Barr. "There is nothing but wonderful people up there."
"We have really enjoyed the people in Pleasanton," Chillingworth said. "We like them and they like us."
The Oak Tree at Pleasanton racing meet continues through July 5. Horse racing takes place Thursdays to Sundays now through the end of the fair.
For more information, visit www.alamedacountyfair.com or www.oaktreeracing.com.
Horse racing schedule
Dates: Thursdays to Sundays -- Today to Sunday, June 25-28, July 2-5.
First post:Thursday, Saturday, Sunday 1:15 p.m.; Friday 3:15 p.m.
Admission: Free with Fair admission.
Stakes races: Oak Tree Handicap, tomorrow; Pleasanton Oaks, Sunday; Oak Tree Distaff, June 27; Juan Gonzalez, July 4; Oak Tree Sprint, July 5; Everett Nevin Stakes, July 5.
Total purse amount: $1.7 million
Adults (13-61) ... $12
Seniors (62+) ... $8
Kids (6-12) ... $8
Children under 6 ... Free
Military Appreciation: Free admission with valid military ID
$2 Tuesdays: June 23 and 30, $2 admission
Seniors Free Thursdays (62+): June 25 and July 2
Kids Free Fridays (12 and under): Today, June 26 and July 3
Feed the Need Food Drive, June 24: Bring 4 nonperishable food items, get free admission and $1 rides
Support Our Troops, July 1: Bring 2 items from online donation list, get free admission and $1 rides
* All special pricing ends at 5 p.m.
Editor's note: Watch for Dennis Miller's "Pick of the Day" each race-day at www.PleasantonWeekly.com.