Closing like ‘a death in the family’

For its thousands of loyal patrons, seeing the last live race at Bay Meadows on Sunday will be like losing a close friend.

The emotions will run much deeper, however, for the dozens of multigenerational family members such as Sue Ann Arterburn and daughter Jackie Calvario, who have made their living at the historic racetrack for decades.

“You become kind of like a family; we’ve seen weddings and births and deaths,” said Calvario, a Redwood Shores resident. “It truthfully feels like a death in the family.”

The two sit back-to-back, working at the Bay Meadows ticket counter, representing three generations of family members that include Bay Meadows trainers and jockeys.

Once the horses run their final lap at Bay Meadows on Sunday, their family tradition at the San Mateo racetrack will reach its conclusion. Arterburn will retire with her husband, a former jockey, and Calvario will join many of her colleagues in moving to Golden Gate Fields in Albany.

“Racing’s the sort of thing where people move with the horses,” track President Jack Liebau said.

Racetrack officials and employees said it is not hard to come by families like theirs — kids who grew up with Bay Meadows as their home away from home, and went on to follow in their parents footsteps to work alongside them at the racetrack.

“You see a lot of second-generation families here,” said Steve Sherman, a trainer and lifelong San Mateo resident who has worked at Bay Meadows since 1982, most of which have been alongside his father, Art.

“Heck, there may even be some third-generation families. I’m sure they’re not pleased about [the closure] either,” Sherman said as he prepared for one of his final races before moving his 20 horses to the Pleasanton Racetrack.

Liebau estimated last year that there were about 500 employees at the racetrack, but said Thursday that number was down to roughly 300.

Track spokesman Tom Ferrall said many of the employees are related, but even those who are not might as well be.

“The racetrack is kind of its own community,” Ferrall said.

Arterburn, who is finishing her last of 33 years at the track, said she could not think of any other venue where so many families would want to stay working together, generation after generation.

“Bay Meadows is different,” she said. “It’s more like home; it’s a family tradition. … It makes you feel good.”

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

Bay Meadows history

Famous dates in the racetrack’s long tenure.

  • Oct. 12 All horses and employees must leave the site
  • Sunday Live racing ends
  • May 11 Last regular season meet
  • April 22 City Council approves specific redevelopment plans for site
  • Dec. 1, 2006 Russell Baze, at Bay Meadows, becomes winningest jockey ever
  • 2005 City Council approves redevelopment
  • 1984 Wild Again runs at Bay Meadows, later wins the $3 million Breeders Cup Classic
  • September 1978 The seven-furlong Longden Turf Course opens
  • April 1954 Determine wins Bay Meadows Derby, wins Kentucky Derby one month later
  • 1948 Legendary jockey Bill Shoemaker begins career at Bay Meadows
  • 1945 First horse, El Lobo, transported by air to racetrack, from Los Angeles to Bay Meadows
  • 1939-1945 Track remains open during World War II, leading to its status as the longest continually running racetrack in California
  • 1937, 1938 Seabiscuit wins Bay Meadows Handicap each year
  • Nov. 3, 1934 Track opens
  • 1933 Ballot measure passed overturning ban on horse racing in California

Sources: Bay Meadows, city of San Mateo

Bay Area NewsBay MeadowsLocal

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