Horses and trainers prepare for a race at Golden Gate Fields
By Barbara Grady
The Golden Gate Fields race track is scheduled to be auctioned off for sale on February 25 in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court proceeding designed to let its owner Magna Entertainment Corp. sell assets to raise funds.
But whether a sale of the Albany horse racing venue actually takes place is still up in the air, officials said, and dependent on negotiations with bidders. As Magna, the largest owner of horse race tracks in North America, has put other race properties up for sale as part of its reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, it has met both success and obstacles. Two weeks ago it sold its Lone Star Park in Maryland with bankruptcy-court approval for $47.9 million. But a planned sale of its Pimlico Race Track in Maryland – home of the famous Preakness races – has been delayed as Magna bypassed its lead or stalking bid bidder.
“There’s still a lot of questions surrounding the auction and how it is going to take place,” said Robert Hartman, Golden Gate Fields general manager. “I’m not sure if Golden Gate fields will in fact be up for auction on Feb. 25,” he said.
Magna Entertainment filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection in March, stating that excessive debt and interest expenses. Golden Gate Fields and all of Magna’s horse racing venues have continued operations during the Magna restructuring.
One likely bidder for Golden Gate Fields as well as most of Magna’s racing assets is MI Developments Inc., an affiliated Magna company which is Magna’s largest shareholder and largest creditor. The initial court papers with its Chapter 11 filing stated that Magna entered an agreement with MI Developments to provide debtor in possession financing and, in exhange, Magna would consider MI Developments the “stalking horse” or first bidder in the sale of certain assets. To read its Chapter 11 filing go to Magna’s website at www.magnaent.com.
Ontario, Canada-based Magna owns many of the most famous race tracks in the country. The Albany track itself holds claim as Northern California’s main horse racing venue.
But the Albany track lies across 102 acres of waterfront property that has been coveted both by community members seeking more open space in Albany as well as by developers. The site includes access to beach front and has a spectacular view of San Francisco. One developer who petitioned the City to change zoning to allow him to build a shopping center there met stiff opposition from community members.
The site also is adjacent to land owned by the East Bay Parks District and by the City of Albany, so many people argue it is logical to expand the parks and recreation opportunities there.
The City of Albany has undertaken a study of community wishes for use of the site, called “Voices to Vision,” which is underway now. To participate, go to www.voicestovision.com.
The 68-year old horse racing track has been part of the Albany landscape and business since the 1940s. Horse races occur almost daily during the racing seasons of November through March and again in summer. But it is rarely crowded.