03/22/2007 11:00PM

Closure will leave void in California dates


With Bay Meadows closing at the end of the year, a hole on the Northern California racing calendar will need to be filled. The California Horse Racing Board on Thursday refused to give the track a two-year waiver on installing a synthetic surface, and the track said it won't seek dates for next year.

Bay Meadows was granted 102 racing days this year: a 50-day spring meeting that began Feb. 14 and ends April 22, and a 52-day summer-fall meet that runs from Aug. 22 to Nov. 4. Golden Gate Fields might seek about 50 of those dates for next year, said Ron Charles, the executive director in California for Magna Entertainment Corp., owner of Golden Gate. The other 50 would presumably be picked up by the state's fair tracks. Charles said on Friday that Golden Gate and the California Authority of Racing Fairs have set up meetings to discuss how to fill the dates void.

The CHRB, citing safety concerns, has mandated that all racing associations with four weeks or more of continuous racing must install a synthetic surface by the end of this year. Golden Gate will install a synthetic surface this summer, but none of the fair tracks has a synthetic surface or is planning to install one.

This means that the fairs, which hold meets that typically last two or three weeks, would only be able to extend their meets marginally before they would be required to install a synthetic surface.

Racing dates for the following year are usually assigned in the early fall.

"I hope everyone can get together and come back with a proposed calendar for 2008," said CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro.

Losing Bay Meadows could make racing in Northern California less convenient, said leading trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. If Bay Meadows's racing dates are divided among several tracks, then horsemen would have to ship from track to track, instead of just back and forth between the two Bay Area tracks. Horses that currently train at Bay Meadows would have to be stabled elsewhere.

"When Bay Meadows goes away, it could have some effect," Hollendorfer said. "A reason some people have lasted so long up here is you have two tracks within 30 miles of each other. Once you stable all around, it's a lot more difficult."

Trainer Billy Morey is stabled year-round at Bay Meadows.

"I was hoping we could stay here as long as possible, but I see both sides," he said. "I think it's better for Northern California to have two major facilities. I wonder if we'll lose some owners who live close to Bay Meadows and like to come here and watch their horses, or if they'll cut back now."

The Bay Meadows Land Co., which owns Bay Meadows, has said it intended to close the track in the next few years and develop the property. With the track likely to close soon, the company did not want to spend the estimated $8 million it would cost to install a synthetic surface, according to Jack Liebau, Bay Meadows president. Liebau represented Bay Meadows at the Thursday CHRB meeting, but did not return calls on Friday.

Despite the loss of Bay Meadows, Shapiro said he does not regret the board's decision to require synthetic surfaces.

"We passed a mandate that has been very successful," he said. "We stuck with what we said. Why would we back down to accommodate a company that wants to leave the horse racing business? At this point, the industry has to recognize that things are changing."