12/30/2002 1:00AM

Oak Tree may move up opening day

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Oak Tree Racing Association officials are considering asking the California Horse Racing Board to allow them to open the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet several days early, which would result in an overlap with the Los Angeles County Fair meeting.

Oak Tree officials would like to start their meeting on Saturday, Sept. 27, one day before the Fairplex meeting in Pomona is scheduled to end. Oak Tree is scheduled to open on Wednesday, Oct. 1, and host the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 25.

By opening earlier, Oak Tree would be able to move some of its eight Breeders' Cup prep races from early October to late September, allowing four weeks between the preps and the championship day.

Oak Tree and fair officials have discussed the dates change.

"It hasn't gone beyond the discussion stage," said Sherwood Chillingworth, the executive vice-president of the Oak Tree Racing Association.

If the overlap occurs, Fairplex Park could shift its racing program to the evening to avoid a conflict with Oak Tree. The Fairplex track has lights.

The proposal must be approved by the CHRB, which is expected to take up the matter at its regularly scheduled monthly meeting in Arcadia in late January.

Chillingworth said that if the overlap occurs, Oak Tree could pay compensation to the Los Angeles County Fair for any loss in business due to the additional competition.

"We would make Pomona whole, so they wouldn't suffer from it," Chillingworth said.

Fairplex Park officials insist that discussions are ongoing and that nothing has been finalized.

"If there is some format that would entice the industry to make the Breeders' Cup a more attractive event, then there is a possibility" of an overlap, said George Bradvica, the equine manager of the Los Angeles County Fair.

He emphasized that the fair association does not intend to give up any racing days during its 17-day meeting.

Chillingworth also said there have been discussions regarding television coverage of the Breeders' Cup prep races at Oak Tree if they are run in late September.