‘Racetrack icon’: Golden Gate Fields trainer Bob Hess Sr. dies at age 86

Photo of Hess
Santa Anita Park/Courtesy
Bob Hess Sr. began his horse race training career at the Agua Caliente racetrack in the 1960s before joining Golden Gate Fields as a conditioner in 1971. According to Matt Dinerman, track announcer at Golden Gate Fields, Hess was honest and genuine, and he always put the horses’ health and first.

A well-loved, longtime horse race trainer at Golden Gate Fields, Bob Hess Sr. died Saturday at the age of 86 due to COVID-19.

According to a press release from Golden Gate Fields, Hess was initially hospitalized in mid-November after contracting COVID-19. Soon thereafter, he was released and then readmitted when his symptoms returned before succumbing to the disease early Saturday morning.

“Bob Hess Sr. will be remembered as a great horseman and a true gentleman,” said Matt Dinerman, Golden Gate Fields track announcer, in an email. “Him and his team took immaculate care of the horses and Bob always put the horses’ health and safety first.”

In the 1960s, Hess began his trainer career at the Agua Caliente racetrack before becoming a highly respected conditioner at Golden Gate Fields in 1971, according to the press release. He continued to train horses at Golden Gate Fields and other tracks in the Bay Area for the next 49 years.

A natural storyteller, Hess thoroughly enjoyed sharing his stories from his past, according to Dinerman. His stories were always humorous, and he often taught his listeners something new through them.

“Striking up a conversation with Bob was always enjoyable,” Dinerman said in the email. “He was an honest and genuine person who led by example and always did what he felt was right by the people around him.”

A longtime friend of Hess’ son Bob Hess Jr., TVG commentator Kurt Hoover remembers Hess for his honesty and integrity, describing him as a “racetrack icon.”

Hess’ distinguished career saw him saddle 1,592 winners from 10,448 starters, earning them more than $17.2 million, according to the press release. His last winner raced with his thoroughbred Just Like Fred on Oct. 29.

With a wealth of knowledge when it came to racehorses, Hess was always happy and willing to teach what he knew to new horsemen and horsewomen in training, Dinerman added in the email.

“The only thing he loved more than his horses was his family,” Hoover said. “He was a great father and a great horseman but an even better person.”

In addition to his life as a trainer, Hess was also a regular customer at Bette’s Oceanview Diner, a family-owned restaurant in Berkeley that he frequented for the past 30 years

Restaurant co-founder Manfred Kroening described Hess as a “character” and one of the most “warm and generous” people he has met throughout the years.

“At a racetrack, it’s hard to find a person nobody has anything negative to say about, and that was Bob,” Hoover said. “There wasn’t one person who didn’t love him.”

According to the press release, Hess is survived by his wife of 56 years, Maria Hess, and four children, Hess Jr, Howie Hess, Erica Hess and Anna Hess.

Contact Zoe Chen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @zoe_chen820.