Bay Meadows, Golden Gate Swap 2006 Dates

Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields agreed to swap their dates in 2006 under a plan approved Sept. 22 by the California Horse Racing Board.

The decision was reached by representatives from Magna Entertainment Corporation, which operates Golden Gate and Santa Anita Park, and Bay Meadows Land Company, operator of the San Mateo track and soon to take control of Hollywood Park. Commissioner Richard Shapiro, who heads the CHRB dates committee along with John Sperry, asked the two sides to work out an acceptable arrangement.

Bay Meadows will run from Dec. 26, 2005 until Feb. 6, with Golden Gate Fields taking over on Feb. 8 and operating until Bay Meadows resumes May 10 for a session lasting to June 18. The summer fair season follows. Bay Meadows will operate the San Mateo County Fair from Aug. 9-23 but will turn over its late summer and fall dates to Golden Gate, which then runs from Aug. 24 to Oct. 15. Bay Meadows returns for a two-month meeting from Oct. 18 to Dec. 18.

There were no public comments on the new date schedule. Ron Charles, president of California racing for Magna, said the former allotment needed to change because it "wasn't fair" to Golden Gate. The old schedule had evolved during the years when Magna ran both Bay Meadows and Golden Gate. Charles noted that one benefit is that the new schedule allows Santa Anita and Golden Gate dates to better coincide.

The new schedule does not include Thoroughbred and mixed breeds dates during the summer for the Californa State Fair in Sacramento. Cal Expo switched its recently completed summer meet to harness racing as a one-year trial in order to help promote the new Sacramento Harness Association, which debuts Sept. 23. Preliminary figures presented by Norm Towne, representing Cal Expo, indicated the 24-day harness meeting generated $16.6 million in total handle, just $1.5 million coming on track. That compared with total handle of $19.8 million at the 12-day 2004 Thoroughbred and mixed breed meet.

Board chairman John Harris called the decline "troublesome."

Towne said the Cal Expo Board of Directors wants to review the results to determine if it should stay with harness dates next year or return to the old schedule. Shapiro said that if Cal Expo wants its former dates back, significant changes in the Northern California schedule would be required by the CHRB. Cal Expo is expected to respond in time for the agency's Oct. 6 meeting.

Shapiro said the 2006 schedule helps reduce some of Northern California's date overlap, which occurs during the summer fair season, and eliminates six-day weeks. He said he hoped to begin the process for next year's date allotment earlier in the year.

"Racing has seen a disturbing trend since 1990," he said. "California on-track handle is down by 59 percent. Attendance at California racetracks is down 35 percent. These numbers indicate an alarming decrease in popularity and participation in racing.

"In looking at future calendars, our desire will be to look for ways to increase on-track handle, increase on-track attendance and to turn the tide to rejuvenate interest."

The fair circuit in Northern California begins June 14-25 at Stockton, followed by Alameda (June 28-July 9), Solano (July 12-24), Santa Rosa (July 26-Aug. 7), San Mateo (Aug. 9-23), Humboldt (Aug. 10-20) and Fresno (Oct. 4-15).

The 2006 Southern California schedule mirrors this year's calendar, starting with Santa Anita on Dec. 26, 2005, until April 23. Hollywood Park follows from April 26 to July 16, then comes Del Mar from July 19 to Sept. 6. The circuit switches to Pomona for the Los Angeles County Fair Sept. 8-25, followed by the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting Sept. 27 to Oct. 29 and the Hollywood Park fall meeting Nov. 1 to Dec. 18.

In Sacramento, 200 nights of harness racing in 2006 goes from Jan. 4 through July 29 and resumes Oct. 22 through Dec. 16. The 200-night Quarter Horse meeting at Los Alamitos runs from Dec. 26, 2005, to Dec.17.