After months of uncertainty, Bay Meadows will race in 2008.
Giving the 73-year-old Northern California landmark a brief reprieve, the California Horse Racing Board approved a one-year conditional waiver from the state mandate for synthetic surfaces for Bay Meadows. The 5-0 vote came during an emergency meeting via teleconference July 3.
Ending threats that they wouldn't keep the facility open even if granted a waiver, track officials agreed to race at the San Mateo venue at least part of 2008, including a winter/spring meet and the San Mateo County Fair in late August. Bay Meadows annually hosts about 120 days of live racing.
“We’re interested in racing,” Bay Meadows president Jack Liebau said. “That’s our intention.”
Though it won’t replace its dirt surface, Bay Meadows has taken steps to improve the safety of its racing surface, Liebau said. That includes the addition of tons of polymer fibers, a major ingredient in synthetic surfaces.
According to the CHRB, two dozen horses were euthanized at Bay Meadows’ 40-day winter/spring meet earlier this year. Of those, half came directly from injuries while racing on the main dirt track.
The Bay Meadows issue has hung over the CHRB for months and brought intense political pressure on the board. Its $10.8-million allocation, which had been axed from the 2007-08 state budget, was finally restored by a legislative conference committee June 29. The new state budget was to have gone into effect July 1, but still needs approval from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the meantime, the CHRB and other state agencies are operating under 2006-07 budget.
“We can go on ad nauseam from one meeting to the next,” CHRB member John Andreini said of the waiver. “If racing is going to be approved, people at Bay Meadows need to prepare. We can't keep putting this off and prolong the uncertainty.”