07/06/2005 11:00PM

Live racing to continue for at least three years


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hollywood Park will undergo minimal changes in coming months as the sale of the racetrack from Churchill Downs to the Bay Meadows Land Co. nears completion, according to two officials.

The $260 million sale was announced on Wednesday. Bay Meadows will continue to conduct live racing at Hollywood Park for a minimum of three years, during which the company will lobby state government for alternative sources of gaming, Terrance Fancher, president of the land company, said on Wednesday.

If alternative gaming - such as slot machines - is not permitted, or a financial agreement is not reached with Native American tribes to enhance racetrack revenues, Bay Meadows is threatening to use the 67-year-old racetrack's site for residential or commercial development.

Wednesday, at a news conference announcing the sale, Fancher said the company would seek entitlements, such as building rights, from the city of Inglewood to develop the property, in case alternative gaming sources do not develop.

Hollywood Park president Rick Baedeker said on Thursday that the only significant change expected to occur in coming months will be the replacement of the turf course, beginning later this month. Day-to-day operations will remain the same, he said.

"I don't think there will be any dramatic changes," Baedeker said.

Replacing the turf course has been planned for several months, since the condition of the turf course last December forced the cancellation of some grass races.

While Baedeker will remain as president, he will answer to Jack Liebau, the president of Bay Meadows, who will direct the two racetracks owned by the land company.

Liebau said Thursday that he will spend "a good part of his time" at Hollywood Park in coming weeks.

The land company has developed part of the Bay Meadows racetrack property in San Mateo, but continues to host live racing there. Liebau said the length of the entitlement process will allow for the short-term continuation of racing at Hollywood Park.

"How long it will take in Inglewood, no one knows," he said. "Entitlements are a long, drawn-out process."

Baedeker said he planned to spend part of Thursday meeting with Hollywood Park's employees, assuring them that their jobs are safe - for now.

"There is a lot of protection for them over the next three years that the Fancher group will provide at the insistence of Churchill Downs," Baedeker said.

Churchill purchased Hollywood Park for $140 million in 1999. A clause in the current sale agreement allows Churchill Downs to reinvest in Hollywood Park over the next eight years if an alternative form of gaming is allowed at California racetracks.

At Wednesday's news conference, Churchill Downs chief executive officer Tom Meeker blasted the state government for not providing more concessions to racing.

"It is apparent to us that the state has forsaken racing," Meeker said, adding that if the state doesn't help racing, "it will not survive."

Fancher said the sale is likely to be finalized in September. Hollywood Park is scheduled to run a fall meeting from Nov. 9 through Dec. 19. Bay Meadows will submit a license application for that meeting to the California Horse Racing Board in coming months.

The quest for alternative gaming will be difficult. Last year, state racing interests sponsored a referendum seeking slot machines at racetracks, but were badly beaten at the ballot.

Last month, racing officials hosted a party for legislators and other government officials in Sacramento in an effort to educate them on racing's needs.

"We're getting a better reception and there is a better understanding of our plight in Sacramento," Baedeker said. "We've made progress, but when you get knee-deep in the politics of a state like California, it's cumbersome."