Bay Meadows closure could dismantle social network

Every morning of the racing season, 74-year-old Dorcas McCarthy, of Pacifica, picks up a friend and heads to the Bay Meadows Race Track.

She has coffee and lunch there, chats with old friends, bets $2 on the horses and goes home. The routine is repeated the next day.

“It’s something to do to break my day up, since my husband died,” she said. “If they close this place, I’m going to have to find something else to do — I don’t know what. I’ll miss it, that’s for sure.”

McCarthy counts among hundreds of older adults who will have to find other activities if the 74-year-old racetrack is shut down after August as planned. The historic track will be transformed into 750,000 square feet of commercial space, 100,000 square feet of retail and 1,067 housing units.

Racetrack employees estimated that more than half of their regular customers are senior citizens who are drawn to the track not only for betting, but also for the social scene and support network it provides.

As it stands, the track is a de facto senior center for many of the track’s regular customers, said Cowboy Perron, who works at one of the track’s restaurants. He said they look out for one another and notice when someone doesn’t come that day. Many bring their own lunch and spend most of their time sitting at tables, drinking coffee and talking to friends.

“They are all worried,” Perron said. “They all say, what are we going to do? Where are we going to go? They’ve been coming here forever.”

After Bay Meadows closes, the nearby San Mateo County Event Center plans to open a satellite wagering room where race fans could watch and bet on races on other tracks. However, that facility will be several blocks farther from the train station that brings many older customers to Bay Meadows — a long trek for some older adults.

Chris Carpenter, the event center’s general manager, said the county will meet with Caltrain and SamTrans to discuss whether a shuttle might be appropriate.

Some seniors said they’ll drive over the Bay Bridge to go to the other Bay Area racetrack, Golden Gate Fields near Richmond, though they grumbled about the bridge toll and the longer commute.

When asked where he’ll go when Bay Meadows closes, 80-year-old John Cubit shrugged and smiled widely.

“Reno, I guess,” he said, eliciting a roar of laughter from his friends at the table.

kworth@examiner.com  

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