While Cal Expo wrestles with its backstretch dilemma, Golden Bear Racing is charging ahead with its plans to revitalize Sacramento's harness meet.
For starters, Golden Bear signed a multi-year contract with Betfair/TVG, the horse-racing cable network, to televise Cal Expo's races nationwide.
"Clearly, it elevates our product," said Chris Schick, Golden Bear's general manager.
The opening purse schedule averages $41,500 a night, more than a 10 percent increase from last spring. In addition, Golden Bear plans to bring back tradition and more good horses to Cal Expo.
The schedule includes several new added-money racing series, named for such past harness greats as owner Lloyd Arnold and writer Stan Bergstein.
"We named the series after some of the biggest names in harness racing," Schick said. "We want every one of the series to be an annual event. We tried to make them like a tribute. That adds to your sport."
Schick is no newcomer. He served as simulcast manager of Capitol Racing during its Sacramento heyday averaging more than $1 million a night in wagering and was general manager of the Sacramento Harness Association when it launched in 2005.
With European-based partner Watch & Wager, Golden Bear hurdled several major steps this summer to fast-track its first meet, including approvals by the California Horse Racing Board.
"I know they're going to do a great job," said Alan Horowitz, executive director of the California Harness Horsemen's Association. "They have all sorts of new ideas and plans. They're really putting in the hours."
Golden Bear's tentative six-month schedule runs Nov. 2 through May 11. The meet will start with racing two nights a week Fridays and Saturdays before expanding to three nights in December or January, Schick said.
That expansion depends on attracting more horses back to California. When the Cal Expo meet was at its height in 2004, about 1,000 horses filled the track's backstretch. Currently, 185 horses are in training at Cal Expo.
Said Schick, "Fundamentally, we're rebuilding a product and trying to do it with limited resources. Right now, I feel pretty confident."
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