The History Behind Alameda County Fairgrounds Horse Race Track
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The History of Alameda County Fairground’s Horse Race Track

Horse Racing is a longstanding American pastime, originating in the mid-1700’s when horse breeders and racers originated the Jockey Club. However, it’s not a well-known fact that the oldest 1-mile horse race track in America is actually located in Pleasanton at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.

The race track was built in 1858 by the Bernal family, which is where Pleasanton’s Bernal Community Park gets its name. Although it’s widely believed that New York’s Saratoga race track is the oldest in the country, the race track in present-day Pleasanton predates it by 5 years. 

In the early 1900’s, the race track began to receive recognition for its ideal soil conditions and temperate weather. In 1902, it hosted horse racing for the Golden Gate Fair. Two years later it held the inaugural Pleasanton Fair and Races. However, it wasn’t until 1912 that the modern-day Alameda County Fair was held onsite, which looked similar to the annual fair that still operates there today. 

Unfortunately, the first two years of the Alameda County Fair did not prove to be a financial success. It was also overshadowed by San Francisco’s 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition and World War I. In result, the fair was cancelled and wouldn’t return to the grounds for over two decades.

Things began to look up for the Pleasanton race track in 1933 when California legalized pari-mutuel wagering, making it legal to bet on horse races at public venues and race tracks. In 1938, three local businessmen suggested using their own funds to repair the fairgrounds and revive the fair to hopes of bringing in revenue to the town.

By 1939, the Alameda County Agricultural Fair Association was founded and the Alameda County Fair returned to the fairgrounds that summer. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the event calling Pleasanton the “birthplace of horse racing in California” and stating that  “the revival of East Bay racing will be on the same spot where horse racing virtually had its birth in California more than 70 years ago when the Spanish Dons built the first track here.”

In 1941, the race track hosted 9 days of racing during the Alameda County Fair for a handle of $432,644, which was a national record. However, due to World War II, the fair was suspended again for the following three years. 

The Alameda County Fair race track continued to make Fair history again in 2003 by hitting the second-highest handle at $35,766,350. In 2007, it set a new fair wagering handle at more than $39.8 million.   

Today, the race track remains one of the most popular activities at the Alameda County Fairgrounds featuring a first-class equestrian center, show arenas, and full-service amenities. The race track’s grandstands can accommodate over 6,000 guests, although the track is known to attract nearly 40,000 people on live-race days.

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