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Pleasanton's 'Queen of Horse Racing'

Wasserman reflects on career, critical time for sport in California

Jeanne Wasserman, director of racing at the Pleasanton fairgrounds, is prepared for another busy and fun season of horse racing at the Alameda County Fair. The meet continues its run with four days of live racing Thursday through Sunday. (Photo by Mike Sedlak)

Simply put, Jeanne Wasserman is the "Queen of Horse Racing" in Pleasanton.

The director of racing for the Alameda County Fair horse racing meet, as well as the head of the Pleasanton Off-Track Betting (OTB) facility, Wasserman is a true success story of hard work and perseverance producing results and thriving in what is largely seen as a male-dominated profession.

"I don't feel that it has been tough," Wasserman said during a recent interview ahead of the 2019 county fair in Pleasanton.

"I maintain a high standard, respect the hard-working people that work at the OTB, in the stables and on the race-track and I feel the respect is given back to me," she added. "I've worked hard to get where I am, and I am very dedicated to making horse racing the best it can be at the Alameda County Fair. If you treat people right, they will usually treat you right."

Wasserman has held a multitude of jobs in horse racing, working her way from an entry-level position to running the show in Pleasanton.

In 1986, she started working in program concessions at the then-new Pleasanton Satellite Wagering facility, located at that time in the Hall of Commerce. She had been working at Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows selling a tip sheet that was owned by her husband at the time.

By April 1994, Wasserman was offered a full-time spot as a program seller, and later that year in October, the existing OTB facility opened (it is located right off Valley Avenue at Gate 12).

From there she continued to advance.

By early 1997, she had passed the satellite supervisor license exam and was working in the control room at the OTB. In October 1997, Wasserman was promoted to day shift supervisor, and then the next year, then-Alameda County Fair manager Peter Bailey offered Wasserman the position of interim manager of the OTB.

She started taking on responsibilities in the grandstands during the live racing meet in 1999. By 2009, she was given the title and responsibilities of director of operations for the live racing meet during the annual fair. In 2013, she picked up the added duty of overseeing the stables, and finally in 2014, she was rewarded with the title of director of racing.

Being the director of racing for the largest of the Northern California summer fair meets can be a daunting task. Given the deteriorating relationship between all parties in horse racing, it doesn't make things any easier.

Instead of being overwhelmed with the constant and growing in-fighting that is on the verge of destroying the sport, Wasserman focuses on the good times -- like the Pleasanton meet.

"My favorite time of year is when live racing takes place during the annual Alameda County Fair," Wasserman said. "It's so great when the horses return to Pleasanton. I love seeing the horses work out in the morning, the races in the afternoon and the crowd going wild while cheering their horse to the wire."

Wasserman said she does her best to create a family-type feeling among her employees, so it's only fitting some of her best memories have to do with her immediate family.

Both of her daughters -- Gina and Kara -- have worked with the fair, with Gina still doing some graphic design for the races. In 2016, Wasserman was surprised when Kara was proposed to by boyfriend Raul in the Winners' Circle during the races. The two married last year.

"Working at the races has always been a family affair for me," Wasserman said.

Of course, there has been countless memories involving racing, but she said one stands above the rest.

On July 6, 2013, Russell Baze -- the all-time winning jockey in North America -- won his 12,000th career race, in Pleasanton. Wasserman was on the track with Baze for the post-race ceremony.

"That I had the chance to stand next to Russell on the track and congratulate him was an honor and so exciting," she said.

Because of the contacts she has made through horse racing, Wasserman has had the chance to experience some wonderful trips.

"In 2011, Lara Sawaya, the executive director at HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Racing Festival, came to the Alameda County Fair to watch an Arabian race that the festival sponsored," Wasserman explained. "Lara really liked the Pleasanton track and invited me to come to the championship race in Abu Dhabi in November of 2011. This was the first of eight trips to Abu Dhabi in November each year, with the last trip being in 2018."

The trips to Abu Dhabi led to other experiences, as well as a chance to enhance her resume internationally.

"I was also the guest of the festival for conferences in Poland, Rome and London," Wasserman said. "At the conference in London, I was honored to be a panelist speaking on the topic of 'Women in Horse Racing.'"

As someone who loves horse racing, the issues over the last 10 years have taken their toll on Wasserman, as well as many others. But as usual, she tries to keep a positive outlook.

She has been part of the generation of horse racing industry that has endured the closing of tracks, as well as the number of horses depleting as barns move out of California.

"I remember the last day, the last race, at Bay Meadows as I stood there watching the race. It hurt to see Bay Meadows close, which also stopped the San Mateo Fair race meet," Wasserman said. "While I was not there for the closing of Hollywood Park, I did watch the last race from the OTB in Pleasanton. It was sad to see Hollywood Park close. It was sad when the Vallejo and Stockton Fairs stopped live horse racing."

Racing in California is just not what it used to be, but there is still horse racing. Things change, time goes on.

Wasserman points back to the glory days of racing in Northern California when there were two major tracks -- Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields -- as well as a full slate of summer fair meets.

And she does so with a smile.

"I think back to the days when the Bay Area used to go back and forth between Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields, and then have the summer fair racing," Wasserman said. "There were so many opening days at a racetrack. There is nothing like opening day at the track. And that is what I want to remember -- each opening day, especially at the Alameda County Fair."

Her enthusiasm about racing has helped hold together an ever-shrinking staff -- both at the OTB and during the live racing meet at fair time.

And that's her legacy.

"I hope people remember that I cared," Wasserman said. "Having started as a program seller and worked my way up to director of racing, I hope I've given other women the ambition to advance in their racing career.

"I always say, 'I love my job,' and I truly mean it."

Horse racing at the fair

The Alameda County Fair features 12 more days of live horse racing from Thursday to Sunday, June 27-30 and July 4-7. Post time is 1:45 p.m. each day; always preceded by a handicapping seminar at noon. The fair meet includes the $50,000 Oak Tree Sprint Stakes on July 4 and the $100,000 Everett Nevin Stakes on July 6. For more information, visit https://annual.alamedacountyfair.com.

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Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Pete
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2019 at 3:06 pm

If horses could talk about the pure joy around the Alameda County Fair race track, it would be...Big Jess, Damage Control and Spectacular. Jeanne brought that joy and hospitality each and every year. Thank You...!


Like this comment
Posted by Michael Cusortelli
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2019 at 9:11 am

I work in the horse racing industry in New Mexico, but I'm a native of Oakland and return to the area to visit family often. One of my favorite places to visit is the OTB in Pleasanton. It's clean, the food is good and reasonably priced, and it's just a pleasant place to spend a day. Hats off to Jeanne Wasserman!


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