Bay Meadows, Magna Dispute 2005 Dates

Signaling changes to come, the Bay Meadows Land Company submitted a separate proposal for the 2005 racing schedule in the northern half of the state to the California Horse Racing Board dates committee Thursday.

The proposal differed significantly from one submitted by Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Golden Gate Fields and has operated Bay Meadows since 2001 in a lease arrangement with BMLC. The two tracks are neighbors in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Magna is in negotiations with BMLC to extend the lease that expires at the end of the year. But the executive of the group that owns BMLC has put together his own management team and retained former Bay Meadows president Jack Liebau as a consultant.

"Obviously we're in a unique situation here," Magna counsel Scott J. Daruty told the CHRB dates staff and committee during the meeting at Sacramento's Cal Expo turf club. "We are hoping we will be there (at Bay Meadows) in 2005. We are negotiating, but obviously, we don't know."

Liebau, who until his recent resignation was director of California racing for Magna, represented the BMLC before the dates committee. He expressed indignation at the request submitted by Daruty and Golden Gate vice president Peter Tunney.

"They've represented to you that these dates are fair and equitable," Liebau complained. "We don't think so."

Magna's proposal would give Golden Gate a continuous 102-day meet running from Dec. 26, 2004 to May 15, 2005. Bay Meadows would run for a month –– May 18 to June 19 – before breaking for the summer fair season, then picking up again on Sept. 1 and going to Dec. 19, with a total of 107 days.

Golden Gate currently operates each November and December, two of the rainiest months on the calendar. Tunney claimed that Golden Gate was averaging 40 days of off-track conditions per meet under the current date allotment, while Bay Meadows averaged two.

Liebau offered to swap Bay Meadow's proposed dates with Golden Gate, if they really believed the Magna plan was "fair and equitable."

The BMLC proposal was closer to the current date allotment. But Liebau suggested the committee take a look at returning to the old split date format that existed prior to 1995. That cut the number of dates at each meeting roughly in half and each track had two meetings.

He said the concept gives each track two openings and closings to market, helps break the monotony of 130-day meetings and keeps the turf courses in better shape, among other factors.

Nobody, it seems, is that thrilled with the Northern California schedule.

Christopher Korby, executive director of the California Association of Racing Fairs, renewed his often-stated request to reduce or eliminate overlapping summer dates with Bay Meadows.

"I believe we are out of step with the circumstances that prevail in racing today," Korby said, referring to the difficulty of filling cards.

Dave Elliott, general manager of the state fair meeting at Cal Expo, was more direct.

"The product in Northern California is bad," he said. "For instance, at its opening day (April 7), Bay Meadows was down 16 percent of live handle. You need to hear all of these suggestions on dates. But I believe it's time for the board to do something about the situation, even experimentally, if need be. We'd be willing to give up a date if others will ... We would request that overlaps go away."

Bay Meadows currently overlaps with San Joaquin County Fair (five days), Sacramento (four days) and Fresno (11 days).