05/22/2007 11:00PM

In a reversal, officials seek 2008 dates


Officials for Bay Meadows Race Course hope to work out a 2008 dates schedule with other northern California racetracks over the next month in the hope of getting a waiver from state regulators that would allow the track to operate next year.

F. Jack Liebau, the president of the track's owner, Bay Meadows Operating Co., told members of the California Horse Racing Board on Tuesday about the track's intention to participate in meetings to set dates for 2008. Liebau told the commission that Bay Meadows would continue to seek a waiver that would allow the track to run next year despite failing to install an artificial surface by the end of 2007, as mandated by a regulation passed last year.

Richard Shapiro, the chairman of the CHRB, said Wednesday that he would support giving Bay Meadows a one-year exemption if the dates schedule benefited the northern California racing circuit.

"If they will commit to racing for a full year, and the dates are what is best for the entire racing industry in northern California, I would be personally inclined to grant a one-year waiver," Shapiro said.

The CHRB passed a rule requiring artificial surfaces at California's five largest Thoroughbred tracks by the end of 2007, citing a belief that the surfaces are safer for horses. The installations typically cost $10 million per track.

The comments by Liebau were an about-face, coming nearly two months after Liebau indicated that Bay Meadows was not interested in racing in 2008 unless the track was granted a two-year exemption. Bay Meadows Operating Co. plans to close the track and redevelop its property in the next two years.

On Wednesday, Liebau said that he would seek "fair and reasonable" dates for 2008, after criticizing the dates the track received in 2007. Liebau said he had not yet met with other northern California racing officials about a dates schedule but hoped to meet with officials from Golden Gate Fields, the other San Francisco-area track, and the northern fairs in the next several days.

Robert Hartman, the general manager of Golden Gate Fields, said that northern California racetrack officials met as recently as May 7-8 to discuss a schedule for 2008 but that Bay Meadows refused an invitation. Hartman said Golden Gate would welcome Bay Meadows to the table.

"We've always wanted to discuss the future of racing with them," Hartman said.

Liebau said the northern California racetracks would seek to present a dates schedule on June 19, the next regular CHRB meeting. Mike Marten, a spokesman for the board, said the board typically awards dates in September, which would give most of the summer to work out details or compromises.

In other action, the board approved the application for a combined "Sonoma Solano Wine Country Racing" meet with one week at Solano from July 11-15 and three weeks at Santa Rosa from July 18-Aug. 6.- additional reporting

by Chuck Dybdal