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Horse racing has been one of mankind’s most popular sports since the beginning of recorded time. The sport has evolved from fields and country lanes to ancient arenas and modern racetracks. Modern racing dates back to the 12th Century when swift Arabian horses were bred to sturdy European horses in order to produce horses with speed and endurance. Horse racing is conducted not only in the United States but in such countries as France, England, Ireland, Japan, Argentina, Singapore, China (Hong Kong) and the United Emirates.

There are four major thoroughbred racetracks in California besides Bay Meadows – Golden Gate Fields (Albany), Santa Anita (Arcadia), Hollywood Park (Inglewood) and Del Mar (Del Mar).

The history of Bay Meadows dates back to the 1930s.

In 1933, William P. Kyne was responsible for the return of modern day racing in California after it had been banned by a vote of the people in 1910. The Ballot measure passed by nearly a 2 to 1 margin even through a similar measure launched by Kyne had been narrowly defeated in 1932.

After investigating the possibility of establishing a racetrack in Southern California, Kyne acquired the old Curtis-Wright airfield on the south side of San Mateo. The site had once been a meadow and was near the bay, hence the name “Bay Meadows”. The ground breaking for the racetrack was on April 8, 1934 and the track opened on November 3, 1934. Attendance on opening day was 15,000 and the mutuel handle on the eight race card was $117,753. Wagering was then limited to win, place and show.

When the United States entered World War II, all racetracks on the west coast were ordered closed. As a result of Bay Meadows agreeing to dedicate 92% of its profits to the war effort, Bay Meadows received an exemption from the order and was allowed to remain open throughout the duration of the war. Due to gas and tire rationing, race goers were not allowed to use cars or buses to get to the track. Horse and mule drawn wagons were the means of getting to the track.
As a result of operating during World War II, Bay Meadows is the longest continuously operating racetrack in California.

Over the years, Bay Meadows has been the site of many “firsts” for racing. The Puett Electric Starting Gate, such gates now being used at most major racetracks in the United States, was first used at Bay Meadows. Quarter horse racing was presented at a major track with pari-mutuel wagering for the first time at Bay Meadows. Bay Meadows was also the first track in California to use the totalizator system and photo finish camera, and the first to present the daily double and night racing.

In 1945, the first horse, El Lobo, was transported by air to a racetrack. The plane took off in Los Angeles and landed in the Bay Meadows parking lot and then taxied up to the Grandstand entrance where El Lobo was unloaded. El Lobo raced the next day in the Inaugural Handicap and won.

In 1948, the legendary Bill Shoemaker began his illustrious career galloping horses at Bay Meadows and won the first stakes races of his career at Bay Meadows in 1949. In April of 1954, Determine won the Bay Meadows Derby and in May went on to win the Kentucky Derby. In 1984, Wild Again ran at Bay Meadows and a week later won the $3,000,000 Breeders Cup Classic.

The El Camino Derby is Bay Meadows signature race, a race that has proven to be a stepping stone to the Triple Crown Classic for such as horses as Golden Act (placed in all three Triple Crown races), Gate Dancer (won the Preakness), Tanks Prospect (won the Preakness), Snow Chief (won the Preakness), Tabasco Cat (won the Preakness and Belmont), Casual Lies (placed in Kentucky Derby), Charismatic (won Kentucky Derby and Preakness), and Cavonnier (placed in Kentucky Derby).

Among the famous horses that have run at Bay Meadows were the legendary Seabiscuit who won back to back running of the Bay Meadows Handicap, Noor, Native Diver (broke his maiden-and won 4 of his 33 stakes races at Bay Meadows), Round Table, Citation, Coal Town, Majestic Prince (broke his maiden at Bay Meadows and went on to win the Kentucky Derby) Tizna, John Henry, The Bart, Track Robbery, Super Moment, Lady’s Secret, Palace Music, Skywalker, Ruhlman, Cigar, Brown Bess, King Glorious, and Soviet Problem, and Lost in the Fog.

It is difficult to top jockey Ralph Neves’ (a leading jockey in his time) experience at Bay Meadows. He was involved in a spill during a race at Bay Meadows and was then taken by ambulance to the local hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. A few minutes later he startled a nurse by getting up and announcing he had to get back to the track to ride a horse in the next race. He ran out of the hospital and jumped into a taxi bound for the track. The next day he returned to riding.

In the nineties and now into the 21st century, the leading trainer at Bay Meadows has been Jerry Hollendorfer and the leading jockey Russell Baze. Russell has lead the nation in victories seven times, and has won 400 races in 11 of the past 13 years.  Baze rode into the horse racing record books as the world's winningest jockey on December 1, 2006 at Bay Meadows aboard the Mark Glatt-trained filly Butterfly Belle. It was Baze's 9,531st win moving him into the top spot over Laffit Pincay Jr. The victory came in the day's fourth race and Pincay was on hand to witness Baze surpassing his career win mark.
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