11 November 2019, California, USA ~ Unless you know horse racing or are into the betting game, you might never see the inside of an Off-Track Betting facility (OTB), and you might not even know where to find one. Director of Racing at the Alameda County Fair Jeanne Wasserman had no knowledge of horse racing, or betting for that matter, 37 years ago until she began selling a betting tip sheet in 1982, owned by her then husband.
“My very first day in the tip sheet booth at Bay Meadows was New Year’s Day 1982,” said Wasserman. Two years later she was a regular, selling the tip sheet at Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows race tracks outside of San Francisco, California. By 1986 she had moved to program concessions at the Pleasanton, California, Satellite Wagering Facility which was located on the Alameda County Fairgrounds.
In 1992, the Fair built a dedicated state-of-the-art Satellite Wagering Facility outside of Gate 12 at the Fairgrounds and by 1997 Wasserman had passed the satellite supervisor license exam and was working in the control room.
A year later she was offered the day shift Supervisor position and within four months she was promoted to Satellite Manager. “I have held a number of different titles,” said Wasserman. “As Program/Racing Form seller, Satellite Supervisor, Satellite Manager, Director of Operations for the live race meet, and for the last five years or so I have served as Director of Racing. Basically, if there is a race horse involved, it falls under my title.”
“The OTB facility holds a special place in my heart as I have been here so long,” she continued. “We have such great customers that I have come to know. We have a few that remember when I was selling programs and pregnant with my second daughter, and that daughter is now 30 years old.”
It is not hard to understand the reason for Wasserman’s success in the horse racing world. She maintains a high standard of service, and knows everyone on the property working in horse racing, including all of the regular jockeys and outriders, and treats the entire group as a large working family. “We are fortunate to have the same outriders each year and they’ve stayed for a while. They are great,” she said.
“There have been quite a few track announcers over the years that have come and gone,” Wasserman continued. “I’ve liked them all for different reasons. One standout was Dave Rodman, the voice of the Preakness. It was exciting to have Dave fill in here for one year and part of another year.”
Wasserman has worked under three Fair Managers during her tenure and says that she misses the days when Bay Area horse racing had two major tracks, at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields, and a full circuit of summer Fair meets. The daily excitement was palpable at the track as the Alameda Fair Grounds was open all year for trainers.
When the Bay Meadows track was sold to make way for housing in 2008, the Alameda Country Fair became the auxiliary stabling facility for Golden Gate Fields. “At that time, our horse stable population at the Fairgrounds grew from 200 to 400,” she said.“Now we no longer have year ‘round training as Golden Gate Fields built more stalls, but we are open for training on 1 May each year to allow horses to come in and train that will be racing during our annual meet.” Pleasanton is always ready to help and recently was asked if they could accommodate about 500 horses and animals from fire evacuated areas. They said ‘yes’, of course.
Admitting that her favorite time of year is live racing during the annual Alameda Country Fair, Wasserman said, “I love seeing the horses work out in the morning, the races in the afternoon and the crowd going wild while cheering their horse to the wire.” One experience that remains a standout is the day at the Fair when she announced top jockey Russel Baze as he was awarded for his 12,000th career win.
The friends and acquaintances that she has made in the horse racing world have been an incredible bonus for Wasserman. After helping to manage the International sponsorship of several annual top Arabian races at Pleasanton for Abu Dhabi’s HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Racing Festival, she credits Director Lara Sawaya for invitations to many races and events around the world. From 2011-2018 she attended Arabian racing in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and Arabian Racing Conferences in Warsaw, Poland, Rome, Italy, and London, England. She was on the speaker’s panel at the UK Conference representing Women in Horse Racing. She admits that she will miss gathering with this select group of international Arabian racing enthusiasts and professionals.
California Live Racing Faces Opposition and Competition
Now only Golden Gate Fields remains as a major Northern California live race track, the Fair racing circuit no longer has the Vallejo and Stockton Fairs, and many barns and trainers are moving to states with more race support and purse money. The Alameda track has also faced cutbacks from the changes in horse racing in California and has had to reduce staff at the OTB and during the live meet, but Wasserman feels that she has been a positive influence during her time.
“I hope people remember that I cared,” she said.” I also hope that I’ve given other women the support to advance as I did in their racing careers. “I have always said, ‘I love my job’, and I truly mean it.”
31 January 2020 is the date of Wasserman’s official retirement from the OTB and from her daily routine as Director of Racing. Fair workers and friends will gather for a goodby and retirement party for her on her last day.
She will be back to direct the Alameda County Fair racing meet for 2020 and possibly beyond. Retired, she plans to spend more time with her two daughters, sons-in-law and the growing grandchildren as they come along.