Documenting the final months of the longest continually operated thoroughbred race track in California, the filmmaker parsed 100 hours of footage into his one-hour documentary “The Last Train from Bay Meadows.”
The film begins with the history of the track, its legendary horses and jockeys. Rubin goes on to document the lives affected by the track’s closing. “The subculture of the daily activity of the track, the people who were losing something very real, [was] a sad and poignant thing,” Rubin said.
The Sunset district resident grew up in Rochester, New York, following the trotters at Batavia Downs and the thoroughbreds at Finger Lakes.
After moving to San Francisco in 1975, Bay Meadows became a favorite hangout.
“The Bay Meadows family and culture are very rich,” Rubin said. “This was a film we had to make. Nobody made any money at all; it was a labor of love.”
The film showcases people such as track legend Boots O’Neal.
As a 10-year-old sneaking in via the track’s restroom window, O’Neal recounts being enthralled as he watched Seabiscuit, undefeated in his lifetime at Bay Meadows, win the Bay Meadows Handicap.
PREMIERE: Thursday Feb 17th @ 7 p.m.
WHERE: Fox Theater, 2223 Broadway, Redwood City
FILMMAKER: Jon Rubin
TICKETS-INFO: (650) 299-0104, www.historysmc.org
(Per another site: Tickets to the film and opening reception are $25 with an RSVP required.)
Interesting, my (soon to be) BIL and his wife live practically across the street from there. We were visiting last fall and I got excited when I saw a sign for a track and as we drove by it was clear that the barns were empty. It made my heart hurt a little. I don't know what the plans are for the land, but I imagined they were going to turn it into another stripmall/apt building/industrial park like everything else nearby.
For the Bay Meadows documentary, almost every one of the Fox's 1,500 seats was filled. The jockey Russell Baze, a prominent part of the film and now well past the 11,000 mark in career wins, was there. So was Jack Liebau, the track's last president, and Greg Gunderson, whose father ran the track for decades. Bob Gunderson, now 92 and recovering from a broken leg, married into the Bill Kyne family. Kyne, a bookmaker who went straight, was the free-wheeling impresario who helped prod California into launching the parimutuel betting era in the 1930s and built Bay Meadows after making a $5,000 sidebet that the track would open on time.
From runners Seabiscuit to Lost In The Fog they get their due in the picture as well.
Three and a half years after the San Mateo City Council approved the project and demolition crews erased the track from its home of 74 years, the fenced-off lot where Bay Meadows once stood still shows no sign of the offices, parks and retail spaces that developers hope to build.
But the developers can’t delay too much longer. The approvals granted by the city stated that building permits must be pulled by mid-2013, or the project must go through a new approval process.
Master developers Wilson Meany Sullivan took a five-month hiatus from the project in 2009 “to re-evaluate things after the financial markets did what they did,” said project manager Genelle Ball. They then proceeded with slowly laying infrastructure on the property.
The city gave up a major chunk of its income — a gambling tax that earned it the better part of $1 million a year — when the track was closed. Until buildings are constructed and property taxes assessed, the city receives no money from the property.
The Opening at Bay Meadows
May 10—Racing returned to Bay Meadows today after a lapse of three years and a nice crowd was on hand to greet the trotters and pacers. With the many improvements made in this plant in the past few years it now ranks as one of the most beautiful in America and every possible convenience has been provided for the benefit of the race‑goer. The new group which has taken over the Pacific Coast Trotting Association to sponsor this meeting includes most of the prominent owners of the State and they have done everything within their power to make the meeting attractive to both horsemen and the public. The officers and directors are Wm. Lachenmaier, President; Walter S. Found, Vice‑President; W. M. Lowe, Secretary; A. S. Nyland, Treasurer; S. A. Camp, Nelson Lindblad, Arch M. Craig and W. C. Newby directors; and Ed Keller General Manager and Racing Secretary.
The track was being used by the runners as late as last Saturday so naturally isn't as fast as it will be in another week or so and naturally some stock is not up to fast miles. However there are around five hundred horses on the grounds so it won't be too difficult to make up plenty of well matched overnights during the ensuing six weeks.
It is quite likely that the feature attracting the most attention as newcomers enter the stands is a gigantic American flag laid out on the turf directly across from the club house and consisting of thousands of painted seashells their red, white and blue brilliance making a beautiful and patriotic display which is well worth travelling many miles to see.
In recent years harness racing has led a rather precarious existence here in the Bay area but with the newly revitalized association which is now backing the meeting we may expect to see it brought back to the prominence it had in the days when this section provided many of the greatest trotters of the breed.
Today's opener was for Calbreds, two‑year‑olds and up and was well raced from post to post with Dana Cameron getting the decision with Casanova owned by L. W. Craig of Los Angeles. King Primrose, a highly‑rated juvenile, placed and Sir James Tass third.
In the third event which was the first heat of the William Lachenmaier purse, Wilbur Beattie rated Adios Hal, owned by Sol Camp, well back until the stretch then moved up to win by a short length from Mr. Primrose, Jimmy Express and Maccara in 2:10.
In the second heat of the Lachenmaier purse Bill Hill changed the standings a bit, holding Mr. Primrose back in fourth horse position until past the half then came on to win by two lengths from Adios Hal, Jimmy Express again third and Easter Sign fourth.
Shafter, California was back in the winner's circle in the fourth as Bob Neuman's Parker Speed King won after a tough stretch battle with Inyo and Abbe's Court. Boardman had kept the gelding covered up until well into the home lane and he had a length margin at the wire.
The sixth was also the first heat of a stake and the surprise winner was Nenona Hanover, owned by Miss Dorothy Nyland and driven by Wes Reynolds‑his first drive since recovering from a serious operation. Chipmite led most of the way with Major Camp trailing, then the Nyland‑owned filly and Miss Fortune. It was head and head through the stretch but Reynolds had a half length advantage at the wire over Angus Worthy with Chipmite third and Major Camp fourth in 2:084/5
In spite of his loss of the first dash Chipmite was favored in the second dash and came through to win by a neck for Owner Clyde Tisher from Major Camp with Nenona Hanover third and Angus Worthy fourth, time 2:163/5 for the mile and a sixteenth.
There were only five starters in the seventh but it was one of the best contests of the day and the winner, Freeman Hanover, was only a nose to the good over Little Steve in 2:062/5 with Frontiersman third and Scotch Princess fourth.
May 11—A chill wind early in the afternoon slowed the time a bit on the second day here but it took nothing away from the contests and evidently induced the betters to lay it on a little heavier as the handle was better all along the line.
In the first race Guy Leaf Pegasus grabbed the lead early and held it through into the stretch when the favorite Sherry Lee sprinted up to win easily for Neil Boardman with Pegasus second, Chuck Woollen third and Perk Primrose fourth.
In the first heat of the Lachenmaier Ranch Stake, Jake Rodman didn't waste any time getting Maud Tass to the front and she was never headed as she won in 2:091/5. Dazzleway had been well played but was shuffled back to sixth going away and the handicap was too much when he tried in the stretch. Hopkinsville Boy, back in action after a years let‑up, was closing fast as he finished second by a length with Casabianca getting the show in a photo from Dazzleway, time 2:091/5, last quarter in :294/5.
The speculators decided Maud Tass could repeat in the second heat of the Lachen*maier Stake with she and Dazzleway receiving the bulk of the play. Victory Bob led the field away with Hopkinsville Boy tucked in, then Lady Newbrook, Maud Tass, Casabianca, Dazzle*way, Dot Collingwood and Gladys Guy Leaf. The first quarter was in 30 seconds then the pace slackened as all hands waited for the stretch to make their moves. Passing the three‑quarters they closed in with Jake Rodman coming on to the lead in a hurry but Casabianca. came with him and held on gamely as they neared home. Dazzleway had a lot of ground to make up and was gaining fast as he got to the filly's withers at the wire, Casabianca third and Lady Newbrook fourth.
The sixth was in doubt right up to the last step as the six horse field was well bunched all the way. Wichita Pegasus rushed to the front with Truabbe Jr. racing with him from the quarter to the five‑eighths where the son of Truabbe took over. Victor Tass raced in third horse spot, then Sheldon Pointer, Levi Watts and Vincent Grattan. In the stretch Bob Parkinson had Sheldon Pointer in the middle of the track and the four‑year‑old gradually wore down his aged opponent to win by a length in 2:071/5 with Levi Watts third and Wichita Pegasus fourth.
It took a photo to separate the first three horses in the seventh in one of the most thrilling finishes ever witnessed ‑here as the leaders were head and head all the way through the stretch. Billy Burns led into the first turn with the 'balance of the nine horse field changing places constantly. Lomita Marge made a rat‑her long break passing the quarter and fell back to seventh then came on again and raced outside the field all the way. Dean Jay was covered up on the turn but edged out in time to go with Lomita Marge .and at the same time Arlagold ‑moved up to take the lead and it was these three which had the crowd on its feet as Al Abare, Doc Vail and Ken Cartnal reefed them home—Lomita Marge getting the decision, Arlagold second and Dean Jay third, time 2:094/5. The next tier was close up with Billy Burns holding on to get fourth money.
Just as the field left the gate in the nightcap Broncho Bell with Bill Jones up, fell but the balance of the field kept clear of the wreck and horse and driver were unhurt.
Patricia Woollen was away first followed by King's jewel, Silver Crispin, Casa Manana, and the balance trailing. Positions were about the same to the three‑quarters when 'Tommy Lane moved up with Silver Crispin and was able to standoff the drive of Judy Tass—(which had had to take up sharply to miss Broncho Bell when he fell).
May 12—As expected the turnout for the meetings first Saturday was much larger than either of the previous days and the newcomers were greeted with a juicy $39.10 payoff in the opening race—a five furlong pace.
Forbes Strader went away on top with Bruce Patch, Miss Highway Guy, Carroll Dale, Santa Clara Boy, Senator Patch, George S. Spencer and Elizabeth Ann Hanover following but positions changed fast as they went into the turn and in the stretch Bruce Patch was leading with Carroll Dale coming from far back to get to Patch's wheel at the wire, time 1:18, with Forbes Strader third and George S. Spencer fourth.
The second race, at a mile and one‑sixteenth, brought out a nice field of eight pacers and Charlie Crummer—who will be remembered as racing Guy the Tramp 2:02 all the way from Canada to Pomona some fifteen years ago‑brought the winner home as he put the cast‑off Swindle Sheet over.
What could have been a bad spill occurred as the field of twelve went away in the third when Edith Primrose, driven by Clarence Hansen, fell just after the word was given, and Red Direct, driven by George Rattenbury, went into the wreckage. Quick thinking on the part of Ratterrbury prevented more serious damage as the net result was two broken sulkies.
Jaybird was away first with Snow Mite next, then Caesar Tass, Arle Boy and the balance trailing. At the three‑quarters Del Argo took Snow Mite out and to the front and the three-year‑old was going away as he won in 2:114/5 with jaybird placing, Brigham third and Caesar Tass fourth.
The fourth was well raced although there were only six starters. Clever Sunny was favorite and came through as expected with Pat Lee getting the place ‑by a nose over Miss Highworthy which came fast to be in contention after trailing throughout, the mile in 2:063/5.
The fifth brought out a field of twelve and provided a bang up contest all the way. The field was fairly well bunched with Pepper Bingen leading, jasmine Hanover in the two hole, Janetta third and the balance changing positions frequently. Coming into the stretch Jim Dennis made his move with jasmine Hanover and the filly was eased up as she won in 2:094/5 with That's It getting up fast to Place, Danish Prince, which had met with interference going away, was eating up space as he finished third and Pepper Bingen fourth.
In the sixth there were only five starters and the contest was delayed until the stretch as they came the last quarter in 30 seconds. Roddy was away first with Imperial Siskiyou next then Little Beaver, Catsup and Ginger Tass. On the back stretch Mrs. Tucker took Catsup to the front and on the turn Al Abare moved from last with Ginger Tass and had the lead in the stretch and won by two lengths from Roddy, Imperial Siskiyou third and Catsup fourth.
The Korbel Champagne Stake brought out a field of nine well matched pacers and they put on a grand show as they rushed into the first turn at a 2:00 clip. Lucille Star went to the front with Highway Pointer, Jacob Tass, Visalia Peter Worthy, Rocket Abbe, Cavalier Bingen, Sir Banos and Scotch Story following in order. The pace to the quarter was murderous for this early in the season as they passed that station in :294/5 and the half in 1:012/5. They eased off on the turn and as they did Dana Cameron made his move with Scotch Story and had the lead at the distance stand to come on and win in 2:071/5 with Jacob Tass second, Visalia Peter Worthy third and Highway Pointer fourth.
What they lacked in quantity they made up in quality as five of the top pacers on the Coast met in the Daly City purse. Mighty Sun was the favorite and came through but only after a torrid last quarter‑the official time showing :284/5 for that part of the mile. The son of Volomite raced to the top on the first turn, with Gray Star, Patchen Axworthy, Lana Direct and Tommie Mc trailing. There was no change until coming out of the last turn when they all turned on and it was about as pretty a race from there on as one could ever see, the Sol Camp colt never faltered although Lana Direct was flying as she came from the trailing spot to finish second, Gray Star third, Patchen Axworthy fourth.
The second heat of the Korbel Champagne Stake provided another good battle as Sir Banos led the pack away and to the quarter in 30 seconds with Rocket Abbe racing outside second then Jacob Tass, Highway Pointer, Visalia Peter Worthy, Frank Primrose all close up. They were at the half in 1:02 and the three quarters in 1:343/5. At that point Lucille Star moved up from eighth position but Visalia Peter Worthy came out fast and had the lead as they straightened in the stretch. Scotch Story made a gallant try but the Joe Grace stud was full of pace and was first in 2:151/5 for the mile and one‑sixteenth, the Craig stallion second, Frank Primrose third and Highway Pointer fourth.
The sponsors of the meeting are more than Pleased with their first three days of racing and are optimistic in their predictions that by the end of next week both the attendance and handle will be increased considerably. Starter McDowell has had his usual success in getting the fields away well while General Manager Ed. Keller is "doubly in brass" as race announcer and doing a top job of it. Jos. M. McGraw is presiding steward here with Chester C. Jones and James McGill his associates.
I live about 2 miles from "the graveyard" as I think of it. Still bitter about the whole thing. The BMLC was so eager to tear it down and I am sure they were already aware the financing had gone...it's been 4 years and there could have been racing all that time...and tax money into the city's coffers. Ive lived in SM all my life and the track has been a big part of that for me as a horse loving kid and adult...daddy took me there frequently on Saturday mornings for the tours...and the races - they still had a harness race meet in the 70's. My husband and I went to the track on the last Saturday and watched Russell Baze win his last Bay Meadows race...
Just rode my bike past there a week ago. They are finally starting to lay out some streets...