Hold All Tickets! Bay Meadows to Race in '08

Hold All Tickets! Bay Meadows to Race in '08
The California Horse Racing Board agreed in principle June 19 to a one-year waiver in 2008 from the state's synthetic track mandate for Bay Meadows, partially reversing a decision made in March. But the board can't make it official until its next meeting.

A majority of the CHRB's members said they would support a limited waiver for the historic San Mateo venue from its requirement that all major Thoroughbred tracks install safer, engineered racing surfaces by Jan. 1. But wording of the agenda item -- presented simply as "status of Bay Meadows" -- prevented definitive action because it did not specifically mention the waiver or synthetic surfaces.

At the suggestion of deputy attorney general Derry Knight, the board postponed its vote at least a month on the issue, but polled its five members present. They unanimously supported the waiver with an asterisk -- adding the clause “in light of the circumstances.” Commissioners Marie Moretti and John Amerman did not attend the meeting at Hollywood Park.

Those current circumstances include no viable alternatives for racing on synthetic surfaces at other Northern California tracks in the near future, said the commissioners. With two environmental groups and the City of Albany carefully measuring the project, Golden Gate Fields faces potential delays in its installation of a Tapeta Footings track by the Jan. 1 deadline. Installation is scheduled to begin by Aug. 1.

“We originally considered a two-year waiver (for Bay Meadows),” explained vice chairman John Harris, one of two members who voted for that exemption when it was requested in March. “When we denied it, no one else stepped up to the plate. No other track -- except for Golden Gate Fields hopefully -- will have (a synthetic surface by 2008). We have a reasonable reason to change our mind.”

Bay Meadows officials had said the 73-year-old facility would close permanently Nov. 4 if not granted an exemption. The board has been under intense political pressure to grant the waiver including a state senate resolution demanding chairman Richard Shapiro’s resignation and elimination of the CHRB allocation from next fiscal year's state budget.

Instead of holding out for prime dates, Bay Meadows president Jack Liebau assured the commissioners Tuesday that his track would race whatever 2008 dates allocated by the board including the San Mateo County Fair’s August dates. Bay Meadows officials also agreed to work with Golden Gate in case the calendar needs to adjustments to allow for the installation of Golden Gate's new racing surface.

"We appreciate the support," Liebau said.

All sides are still trying to formulate a calendar for 2008 and beyond, said Tom Bachman representing the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

"We certainly want to keep a cohesive, healthy racing calendar for Northern California," Shapiro said. "We should consider the one-year waiver for Bay Meadows because we don't have an altenative in place. Approving this for 2008 would at least take some uncertainty out of the situation and take off pressure from Bay Meadows to close."

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