Bay Meadows forced to close this fall 

After 73 years, Bay Meadows Race Course will hold its last race Nov. 4, bringing an end to one of the Bay Area’s most storied landmarks.

San Mateo residents have been struggling for three years to save the track from being developed as a mixed-use urban center that is supposed to break ground in 2008. However, it is the legendary one-mile oval of dirt that ultimately will cause the track closure.

On Thursday, Bay Meadows learned that it would not be able to conduct licensed horse races after the end of the year because it can’t meet requirements set by the California Horse Racing Board, Bay Meadows Land Company spokesman Adam Alberti said.

Bay Meadows officials asked the board for a two-year waiver of the rule that requires the replacement of the existing dirt track with a synthetic Polytrack. The new tracks are safer for horses to run on and hold better in inclement weather. The request was denied in a 4-2 vote by the board Thursday, ending the 73-year racing history that brought fame to horses such as Seabiscuit and jockeys such as Bill Shoemaker.

Juan Carlos Pometta Betancourt

Regulars and track supporters still hope there may be a way to stop the redevelopment of the historic track into offices, stores and apartments.

Alberti said the company did not want to invest in the new track, which could have cost up to $10 million.

"We really can’t invest in the installation of a Polytrack considering the economics of horse racing and the future of Bay Meadows," Alberti said, referring to their planned development.

The city and land company may ask the racing board to review the issue again, San Mateo City Manager Arne Croce said. He said the city had expected racing to continue through 2008.

The loss of racing will cut the city off from annual general fund revenue of approximately $600,000, one-third of 1 percent of all the bets placedat the track.

"It is an impact, so there is a concern, and we’re looking into what it means and how we can mitigate those impacts," Finance Director Hossein Golestan said.

While the timing of the closure is surprising, Croce said it will not impact the project significantly. The current design guidelines were approved on Dec. 12 and the developer is working on submitting architectural reviews, planning and permit applications.

If completed, the development project by the Bay Meadows Land Company will include 1.25 million square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail space and 1,250 residential units.

But the track’s supporters haven’t given up hope. Friends of Bay Meadows legal counsel Stuart Flashman said he was still working on the group’s efforts to block the redevelopment.

News draws mixed reaction from regulars, employees

Bay Meadows regulars and employees had mixed reactions to Thursday’s news that the racetrack is shutting down this fall.

Racetrack officials told employees Thursday morning that the track would close permanently Dec. 7. Although fans and workers knew the end was coming, many said they hoped it wouldn’t be so soon.

"We’re all sick about it," said Rez Garza, a paddock worker and onetime jockey who has worked at Bay Meadows since the 1950s. The closure affects all of Bay Meadows’ approximately 180 employees. "For a lot of people, this is all we know. It hurts."

William Morey, a horse trainer who has worked in the field for the last decade, hoped Bay Meadows would be able to remain open another two years, despite the looming development. While it’s better for trainers to have both Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields open, he said the closure will not ultimately harm his business.

"We’ll be based out of Golden Gate Fields [after Bay Meadows closes]," Morey said. "Ithink we’ll lose some of the fan base over time. It’s unfortunate that it had to close sooner than it absolutely had to, but we have to face facts now."

Betters, on the other hand, were more resigned — and blamed San Mateo officials for driving the racetrack out of business.

"They could have brought in slot machines and saved it," James Dafoe said. "They say it’d bring in a bad element, but they have it backwards. People need to have money in order to gamble."

Jack King, a former employee who now comes out to Bay Meadows to bet on the races, said it was only a matter of time before a closure date was set.

"They’ve been ‘closing’ for 10 years," King said, chuckling. "We’re lucky they’ve lasted as long as they did."

— Beth Winegarner

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