By Tracy Gantz
The Oak Tree Racing Association and the Pleasanton race meeting are joining forces to boost interest in Northern California racing. Through sponsorships to the Pleasanton stakes schedule and an increase in marketing, Oak Tree will add more excitement to the Pleasanton meet, which traditionally kicks off the summer Northern California racing circuit.
Pleasanton has been rebranded as Oak Tree at Pleasanton, complete with its new designation of OTP in past performances and charts. As such, the June 19-July 6 meeting will benefit from Oak Tree’s long experience and history of conducting some of the most successful race meetings in the country, including hosting five Breeders’ Cups.
“Oak Tree Racing Association is very pleased to be racing again this summer at the Pleasanton Race Course, the oldest racing surface in California, having been first built in 1858,” said Oak Tree President John Barr. “We will operate this meet in cooperation with the Alameda County Fair, which will be open during the same time period and will be further aided by the California Authority of Racing Fairs.”
Oak Tree is sponsoring Pleasanton’s stakes schedule with the addition of $150,000. That includes the creation of three new stakes—the $100,000 Oak Tree Handicap on June 21, $100,000 Oak Tree Distaff on June 28, and $75,000 Oak Tree Sprint on July 4. Oak Tree is also investing $120,000 in capital improvements for the track.
“We’re doubling the amount normally spent on horse race marketing for the meeting as well,” said Sherwood C. Chillingworth, Oak Tree’s Executive Vice-President.
That marketing push, said Chillingworth, will be designed to attract more horses to increase field size and to raise awareness of the race meeting in Pleasanton and the surrounding areas.
“We’ve got people throughout the western part of the country recruiting horses to come to Pleasanton,” said Chillingworth. “It’s the first fair meet of the year, and therefore the horses are likely to stay up there. Thus, we hope to benefit all succeeding fairs that follow us.”
Oak Tree also brings its historic mission of helping horsemen and its community. It will donate $25,000 to charitable institutions in the local community.
“Our mission statement is horsemen helping horsemen,” said Chillingworth.
Oak Tree’s mission began in 1968, when Dr. Jack Robbins, Lou Rowan, Clement L. Hirsch, B.J. Ridder, and several other horsemen created the organization. The following year, Oak Tree inaugurated its fall race meeting at Santa Anita.
Over the next 41 years, the Oak Tree meeting stood as a national jewel. It brought forth such innovations as the Yellow Ribbon Stakes, which led to the creation of an Eclipse Award for turf females and the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Each year, potential champions competed in the stakes races, many times as a final prep before a successful onslaught on the Breeders’ Cup. And five times—in 1986, 1993, 2003, 2008, and 2009—Oak Tree hosted the Breeders’ Cup, which included the popular Zenyatta’s victories in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Oak Tree’s efforts included donations of millions of dollars in everything from equine research to local boys’ and girls’ clubs. In fact, one of the major recipients of Oak Tree’s charitable donations throughout its history has been the Center for Equine Health at the University of California at Davis, just down the road from Pleasanton.
One of Oak Tree’s most popular traditions, its historic stein giveaway, will now move to Pleasanton. Oak Tree at Pleasanton is planning several giveaways, beginning with T-shirts on opening day. Oak Tree at Pleasanton caps will be given away the first weekend, with the steins as the giveaway the following weekend. On the third Saturday of the meeting, fans will receive free binoculars.
“We look forward to welcoming our old friends and fans from the past to some exciting racing and an expanded stakes schedule,” said Barr. “We invite all racing enthusiasts to keep their eye on this website (http://www.oaktreeracing.com)for further announcements as opening day draws closer. In addition, TVG and HRTV fans will be able to see the complete race card each day of racing.”