05/25/2007 12:00AM

Fall dates preferred by Bay Meadows for 2008


ALBANY, Calif. - F. Jack Liebau, president of Bay Meadows, said Friday that the racetrack would seek early fall dates in 2008 as part of a Northern California racing schedule that would provide flexibility for Bay Meadows to conduct racing next year before it ultimately closes for development.

Officials from Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields, Northern California's two major racetracks, said they would begin negotiating possible 2008 dates later this week. The discussions will include representatives from the California fairs, Thoroughbred Owners of California, and California Thoroughbred Trainers.

Liebau said that Bay Meadows would want early fall dates similar to ones it raced in 2007, including late August to early November.

"Labor Day has historically been the biggest attendance day of the year," he said.

The early fall dates would also give leeway to the Bay Meadows Land Company, which owns the racetrack, to begin development late in 2008 or early in 2009.

The dates discussions come after Richard Shapiro, chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, said at a board meeting Tuesday that he would favor giving Bay Meadows a one-year exemption from the state mandate that racetracks install synthetic surfaces by Jan. 1, 2008, so long as Bay Meadows commits to racing next year. In March, the board rejected a Bay Meadows request for a two-year exemption, prompting Bay Meadows to declare that it would not seek dates in 2008. At the meeting Tuesday, Liebau reversed course and said Bay Meadows would seek "fair and reasonable" dates.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to all dates," Liebau said. "In January, your out-of-state handle is helped because there's not as much competition, but it is not good for group sales, which is very important at Bay Meadows. Spring dates are good, but there are more tracks running" - meaning increased competition.

Robert Hartman, Golden Gate's general manager, said on Tuesday that he welcomed a discussion with Bay Meadows but declined to elaborate.

"It's hard to comment on any plan until we hear it in its entirety," Hartman said on Friday.

When Bay Meadows announced its original intention not to seek dates, Golden Gate, the state's county fairs, and the owners and trainers groups began working on a tentative schedule for 2008, with Golden Gate and the fairs planning to split the roughly 100 days traditionally assigned to Bay Meadows.

Chris Korby, executive director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, said it was important to settle on 2008 dates so that the fairs could begin planning for beyond then. "We look forward to being part of Northern California racing for the long run," Korby said.