CHRB Panel OKs 2008 Race Date Plan

CHRB Panel OKs 2008 Race Date Plan
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Live racing at Bay Meadows Race Course would end with the conclusion of the San Mateo County Fair race meet Aug. 18, 2008, under a dates plan given preliminary approval by the California Horse Racing Board's strategic planning committee Sept. 20.

The committee granted a 70-day block of racing dates next year for Bay Meadows, beginning Feb. 6 and concluding May 11, in addition to the two weeks of the county fair there in August. The CHRB is scheduled to give the 2008 race dates plan final tweaking at its Sept. 27 meeting.

Bay Meadows is operating in 2008 under a one-year waiver granted by the CHRB to the board's mandate that all major Thoroughbred facilities on the circuit convert to a synthetic racing surface by Jan. 1. The 83.5 acres of the Bay Meadows Land Company site is slated for demolition at some point to make room for an office and retail complex. But it remains uncertain as to when that will take place.

A citizens group seeking to qualify a referendum aimed at overturning the city's approval of the redevelopment project went before a three-judge panel of the California First District Court of Appeal Sept. 19. "Friends of Bay Meadows" argued city and county elections office improperly disqualified 95 signatures that would have allowed the measure to qualify for the ballot last year. A decision is expected in about a week.

According to recent press reports, the project has also been significantly reduced in scope. Originally approved for 1.25 million square feet in office space development, the plan now calls for 750,000 square feet. Retail plans have also been reduced.

Linda Schinkel, coordinator for Friends of Bay Meadows, said the state wants to move the proposed train station location and make other changes to the transportation corridor plan that was approved along with the Bay Meadows project. She said that would almost certainly attract a legal challenge to the existing environmental impact report.

"It's not over," she said. "I think there are a lot of other variables still out there that will need to be resolved."

Meanwhile, the CHRB committee made some significant changes in the date allocation in the northern half of the state. Golden Gate Fields allotment was increased from 97 days in 2007 to 122. Golden Gate will run from Dec. 26, 2007 to Jan. 27, 2008. Following the Bay Meadows stand, Golden Gate would return May 14 and run through June 22 before the 88-day summer fair schedule would begin. Golden Gate is to return Sept. 17 and extend through the end of the year.

Bay Meadows has pledged to keep its facility open for stabling and training "as long as it's safe," said Richard Bon Smith, assistant executive director of the CHRB. He said the board hopes to get a firm commitment from Bay Meadows for conditioning and boarding through the end of the year.

What happens after that? Smith said the strategic planning committee would meet again in mid-October to discuss dates for 2009-10. In addition to the Bay Meadows situation, development plans by the BMLC for its Hollywood Park property will be a hot topic then.

"We're pressing ahead diligently with plans to improve the facility at Pleasanton (on the Alameda County fairgrounds)," said Christopher Korby, executive director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs. He said they are seeking several sources of funding for the expansion. "The first order of business is installation of an engineered racing surface."

The Los Angeles County Fair at Fairplex has been mentioned as the most likely alternative in Southern California should Hollywood Park be taken off the schedule.

Elsewhere on the '08 calendar, Sacramento's Cal Expo will return to the fair racing schedule for two weeks concluding on the Labor Day weekend after an absence of three years. Cal Expo is the year-round home to harness racing in the state. The San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton, which has traditionally led off the fair calendar, has switched its dates and will follow Cal Expo on the schedule.

In Southern California, the schedule remains much as it has in recent years. The Santa Anita winter/spring meet will run 85 days. Hollywood Park picks up the "swing week" in late April and will run 60 days during its spring/summer meet and 40 more in the fall/winter season. Del Mar's allocation remains at 43 days, while the Oak Tree fall meet at Santa Anita gets 26.

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