But like the duck on a pond, everything above the water seems calm while underneath the water, chaos.
"I think everyone in the industry is frustrated," said Alameda County Fair CEO Jerome Hoban. "Everyone is vying for their part of the pie."
California perhaps exemplifies all that's plaguing horse racing across the country -- lack of cohesive organization and greed.
The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) is the governing body for horse racing in the state and has been playing peacekeeper between organizations in the state. The organization declined to comment for this story.
There are three organizations fighting for racing dates in Northern California: a coalition of various fair organizations, including Alameda County Fair, represented by the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF); Golden Gate Fields, represented by the Stronach Group, which also owns Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park and others; and the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa. Sonoma County Fair was formerly a member of CARF but left to take control of its own meet in 2013.
It's been a bitter, and at times ugly, battle.
The CHRB ruled in January 2017 that Pleasanton could not stay open as a year-round auxiliary track. Pleasanton became the official auxiliary training track for Golden Gate Fields when Bay Meadows closed in 2008.
At the root of the controversy was, and still is, vanning (transporting) and stabling fees. For instance, when Golden Gate Fields is running, funds are paid to Pleasanton for being the auxiliary training center.
Those funds are generated from the wagering handle. The roles are reversed during the summer months when Golden Gate Fields is not running and the fairs, in turn, see money from their stabling and vanning fund go to Golden Gate Fields.
Golden Gate Fields, controlled by Stronach Group, was upset about the money they were paying Pleasanton and took the issue to the CHRB. The Board mandated that the Pleasanton track close for most of the year, with the exception being from May 1 to the day after the Alameda County Fair meet ends.
The forced Pleasanton closure, in turn, displaced many workers and their families, and lost horses from the already-dwindling Northern California racing community. According to people from the Fair, 100 horses left Northern California. There were also trainers that left the industry.
There was other damage to local horse racing.
"Part of what hurt was the development of younger horses," said Allen Aldrich, an owner, trainer and long-time Pleasanton resident.
Aldrich has always been a huge proponent of the Fair circuit but has also found success as an owner on the national scene, winning an Eclipse Award (think Academy Awards for horse racing) as one of the owners of She's A Tiger as the top 2-year-old filly in the country.
She's A Tiger was trained in Pleasanton by another long-time resident, Jeff Bonde.
Once the Pleasanton track was closed for most of the year, Bonde, well known for his exceptional training of young horses, took his stable to Southern California rather than Golden Gate Fields. Golden Gate Fields uses a synthetic surface while Pleasanton features a dirt track.
"Pleasanton was a great place for training younger horses," said Aldrich. "We have always felt dirt was a better surface for the young horses."
Scott Herbertson of San Ramon has also made a big impact in the industry as an owner. He and his son, Ari, who trains almost all his horses, have become a force.
They have run horses in graded stakes races at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, as well as last year at Del Mar during the Breeders' Cup.
But they also embrace the fair circuit, be it at Pleasanton or at Ferndale for the Humboldt County Fair.
"We love the fairs," said Herbertson, who has 22 horses in his barn right now. "Ari knows I love to run horses at Pleasanton. There are good things and bad things going on right now. Closing training centers doesn't help."
Misinformation spread throughout the industry as to where the blame should fall following the closure, and as a result, the Alameda County Fair incorrectly took the blame, in the eyes of many.
In reality, the Fair team fought for staying open and when they were forced to shut down, they went above and beyond to help relocate families and battled to keep kids affected by the decision in the local school systems, all the while being wrongly criticized.
In addition, regarding the 2018 racing calendar, Pleasanton lost its two-week Fall Meet that had become popular in just a short two years.
In exchange, Pleasanton got an additional three days of racing for this year's fair meet -- the opening Friday through Sunday.
"That was a compromise to try to keep as many people happy as possible," Hoban said of the racing dates given by the CHRB. "We were happy to get another week with our premier event (the fair) going on."
But once again misinformation circulated and some people inside the industry were finger-pointing at Pleasanton, accusing them of giving up other meet dates to gain three more during the fair.
"We didn't give those dates away -- we fought for them," said Hoban. "Horse racing is part of our heritage, part of our culture."
Larry Swartzlander, the executive director of CARF, is locked into a battle to keep fair racing going in a positive direction.
"Our goal is we want to make California better for racing," said Swartzlander. "As a group we want to take over Northern California. The fairs are very strong, and we will not lose any more dates going forward. If I had to bet on it, we will get more dates from Golden Gate Fields. The fairs are not going away."
That's something Hoban would relish.
"Absolutely," said Hoban when asked if the Fair would want more racing. "I am confident our board would consider more dates."
More race dates would feed into the end game for Hoban and his staff.
"Our objective is to introduce new people to horse racing," said Hoban. "How else can we do that? Fairs have been used and seen as a mechanism to advance racing in California."
The battle has raged on as CARF pushed for Golden Gate Fields to shut down during the summer rather than continually pay GGF for stabling. A last-minute deal was worked out with some clauses that would hopefully incite trainers with horses at Golden Gate Fields to run them during the fair circuit.
"That was actually a good thing," said Aldrich of the deal. "We would have lost another 100 horses and lost some more trainers."
These concerns continue to be discussed statewide and locally. Golden Gate Fields called for an emergency meeting of horsemen on June 14 to discuss the future of Golden Gate Fields, and the CHRB planned a meeting in Pleasanton this week that may have a big effect on the future of horse racing in Northern California.
One other major issue plaguing racing in Northern California is purse structure.
"Purses have to go up," said Aldrich. "They have been the same for 10 years and the costs have doubled."
Help regarding the purses might be coming. A recent United States Supreme Court ruling will now allow sports wagering in all states, which could benefit the tracks. It has already begun in Delaware and New Jersey.
Leaders in the racing industry, though, are worried that Native American-owned casinos may stymie these revenue-generating efforts. If the California legislature gives sports wagering exclusivity to these casinos, it could be bad news for horse racing.
"It would kill the sport if the Indian casinos get sports wagering and horse racing doesn't," said Herbertson. "We would be done."
This story contains 1323 words.
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