03/21/2007 11:00PM

After 73 years, Bay Meadows will close


SAN MATEO, Calif. - The California Horse Racing Board voted 4-2 on Thursday to deny a request by the Bay Meadows Racing Association for a two-year waiver on installing a synthetic racing surface.

The decision means that Bay Meadows, which opened in 1934, will close after this year, said Bay Meadows president Jack Liebau.

"For racing in California, this is a day of infamy," Liebau said. "Racing in Northern California will never exist as in the past. You're going to have

horses, owners, and trainers leaving."

Liebau said that Bay Meadows would not apply for any dates in 2008.

"They made their decision, so be it," he said.

The board, citing safety reasons, mandated in 2006 that all racing associations with four weeks or more of continuous racing must have a synthetic surface to be granted a license in 2008. Hollywood Park, like Bay Meadows owned by the Bay Meadows Land Co., has installed a synthetic surface and Del Mar is in the process of installing one. Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita are planning to install synthetic surfaces this summer.

The Bay Meadows Land Co. has said it intended to close Bay Meadows in the next few years and develop the property. With the track likely to close soon, Liebau said the company didn't want to spend the estimated $8 million necessary to install the new surface.

Board chairman Richard Shapiro, John Amerman, Jerome Moss, and Marie Moretti voted against the extension. Vice chairman John Harris and John Andreini voted for it.

Shapiro said he appreciated the historic and economic value of Bay Meadows, adding, "We have an industry that has to move forward."

"We're not the ones who decided to end racing," he said.

Moss and Amerman said they voted against the exemption because they believed that the synthetic surface was in the best interest of the horses.

Harris said he voted for the extension because California would be better off with two more years of racing.

Although many Northern California trainers spoke in favor of the waiver, Ed Halpern, representing the board of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said that Bay Meadows should be forced to install a synthetic surface.

Tom Bachman, representing the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said his group requested that the board deny the waiver.

Without Bay Meadows, the only major Thoroughbred track in Northern California will be Golden Gate Fields in Albany, which is owned by Magna Entertainment. The current Bay Meadows meet runs through April 22, and its summer-fall meet runs from Aug. 22 to Nov. 4.

Bay Meadows opened on Nov. 3, 1934, under the leadership of Bill Kyne. Later that year it became was the first track to install a photo-finish camera and in 1939 became the first track to use an electric all-enclosed starting gate. Many stars have run there, including Seabiscuit, Citation, Round Table, Native Diver, Noor, Majestic Prince, Cigar, and Lost in the Fog. It was also the track where Bill Shoemaker began his career by galloping

horses in 1948 and earned his first stakes victory, in 1949. Last year, it was the scene of Russell Baze's surge past Laffit Pincay Jr. to become racing's winningest rider.