10/30/2002 12:00AM

Rock may close after '04


SALEM, N.H. - The owners of Rockingham Park have announced an agreement with a Massachusetts development company to explore other uses of the track's property and the possibility of discontinuing racing after 2004.

Rockingham Venture Inc. and Eastern Development, LLC - a group that specializes in office and retail development - will look at new options for the land but have promised to continue racing at the track for two more seasons.

Business has declined at the 96-year-old track over the past decade, in part because of competition from casinos in Connecticut. Rockingham has repeatedly petitioned the New Hampshire legislature for assistance in the form of slot machines or video lottery terminals. Track officials, though, hold little hope things will change after next week's elections.

Edward Callahan, the track's general manager, said, "We must all be realistic. After the casinos opened, wagering on the races dropped by 50 percent. We have explored every avenue to legalize video lottery in New Hampshire but have not found the finish line yet."

What kind of racing will take place at Rockingham in the next two years remains in question. The track is negotiating a purse structure with horsemen but has also been exploring the possibility of running a harness meet. Requests for racing dates must be filed by the end of November.