08/19/2007 11:00PM

Fall meeting opens. Will it be the last one?

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Bay Meadows opens a 52-day fall meeting Wednesday, and there is still at least some question of whether this will be the final meet run at the 73-year-old track.

The track's owner, the Bay Meadows Land Co., has said it will close Bay Meadows and develop the property within the next few years, and track management said earlier this year it would not run past the end of this meet if the California Horse Racing Board insisted it install a synthetic surface. Bay Meadows was granted a one-year exemption by the CHRB on installing the surface, but there's no guarantee the track will run next year.

The 2008 dates for the California tracks are expected to be determined by the CHRB within the next month, and should Bay Meadows not receive what track president F. Jack Liebau called "acceptable dates" for 2008, this fall meeting could be the last at Bay Meadows.

Liebau said Bay Meadows is seeking 80 spring dates and a chance to run the San Mateo County Fair in June as the first of the fair tracks. The San Mateo County Fair currently runs in August.

"We need cooperation and a little give from everybody, just as we did this year so that Golden Gate could install its artificial surface," Liebau said.

The Bay Meadows meet runs through Nov. 4, and the Golden Gate meet begins Nov. 7.

The stakes schedule is highlighted by the Grade 3, $150,000 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile turf race, on Sept. 22. Bay Meadows boosted stakes minimums from $50,000 to $60,000.

"We got a little extra money, but we have not robbed anything from our overnight purses," Liebau said. "You have to have strong overnights to survive.

"One thing our trainers found out this summer is that they can compete anywhere, so we have to keep our purses up."

Liebau said the turf course "is in better shape than ever before."

At the spring Bay Meadows meet, more than two dozen horses died as a result of racing or training injuries. Liebau said work has been done to make the track kinder for this meet.

"I think our track got a bad rap this spring," he said. "It was always one of the safest tracks, but we did have a bad streak last meet when we had a number of catastrophic injuries. We brought in Mick Peterson from the University of Maine, who is one of the leading experts on track safety, to study the track in June. He concluded the track was consistent but might be a bit too hard. So we added stabilizers, sports grids, and other materials to keep the track from getting so hard."

Bay Meadows will race five Friday nights during the meet, beginning on Sept. 21. The track will conduct two handicapping contests, including a qualifier for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping .