08/28/2006 11:00PM

California dates changes on horizon

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DEL MAR, Calif. - With two of the state's largest tracks making plans to close in coming years, the California Horse Racing Board's strategic planning committee met Monday with many of the state's top racing executives to discuss future racing dates. Some of the proposals that were discussed would drastically change the schedules of California's racing circuits.

Officials with the Bay Meadows Land Co., which owns Bay Meadows, in San Mateo, Calif., and Hollywood Park, in Inglewood, Calif., have indicated a desire to develop those properties, but have given no firm timetable on when that would occur. As a result, the CHRB and racing officials are scrambling to develop contingency plans.

On Monday, and at a similar meeting on Aug. 18, CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro called for the closure of some fair venues and the transfer of their racing dates to more successful fairs. One plan for 2008 presented by northern California fair officials Aug. 18 and discussed Monday assumes that Bay Meadows would be permanently closed and that there would be no Thoroughbred racing at the Cal-Expo fair in Sacramento, which operates a year-round harness meeting. Since that plan was first presented, Cal-Expo officials have expressed a desire to possibly race Thoroughbreds in 2008, officials said on Monday.

Following a race meeting at Golden Gate Fields in the winter and spring, the proposed schedule for the fair circuit would include racing at Stockton in June, Pleasanton in late June and early July and again in September, Vallejo in July and in late August and early September, Santa Rosa in late July and early August, Fresno in October, and a seven-week meeting in the fall operated by a private association at a fair venue.

This year, those fairs and the San Mateo County Fair at Bay Meadows each operated a two-week meeting. Fair officials would like to start the new schedule in 2008, but Shapiro called for changes to take place next year.

At Monday's meeting, there was less urgency regarding the Southern California circuit.

Hollywood Park officials have committed to run through 2008. If Hollywood is unable to get the necessary real estate approvals to develop the track, racing could continue in Inglewood for several years. Officials with Los Alamitos, currently operating a year-round Quarter Horse meeting, and Fairplex Park, which hosts the Los Angeles County fair in September, have stated a desire to expand those properties and assume Hollywood Park's dates.

Scott Daruty, the chief U.S. counsel for Magna Entertainment, the parent company of Santa Anita, presented a radical proposal that would greatly change the Southern California circuit. Effective with the closure of Hollywood Park, Daruty proposed running at Santa Anita through Memorial Day, which would extend the current meet for a month; awarding Del Mar an additional week, to eight weeks; and giving the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting six weeks annually each fall.

That proposal would cut into the Hollywood dates that Fairplex Park and Los Alamitos want to assume.

The strategic planning committee is expected to meet in September to further discuss changes to the northern California fair circuit.