Last race at Bay Meadows 

The 73-year-old Bay Meadows racetrack in San Mateo was expected to close at the end of the 2008 summer-fall season, as construction begins on a high-density, 83-acre development with 1,250 homes, 1.25 million square feet of office space and 150,000 square feet of retail. The project has finally surmounted all obstacles in a long and convoluted approvals process, although a pending legal appeal by neighbors remains unresolved.

However, last Thursday’s 4-2 vote by the California Horse Racing Board will apparently end thoroughbred horse racing at Bay Meadows as of this Nov. 4, one year early. This means the premature disappearance of some 600 jobs, not to mention the loss of more than $1 million in 2008 racing revenue for San Mateo County and the city of San Mateo.

Facing imminent closure of the Peninsula racetrack where legendary Seabiscuit twice won the Bay Meadows Handicap and Russell Baze became the winningest jockey in history last December, the operators sought a two-year exemption from a state board mandate that major tracks must replace their dirt ovals with artificial surfaces proven safer for horses. When that request was rejected, it made no fiscal sense for Bay Meadows to spend $7 million to $10 million to upgrade a track that would gain only one additional year of racing.

As understanding of the potential economic losses from early closure of Bay Meadows became wider, local political pressure has begun to mount for the Horse Racing Board to grant an exemption. At least one board member is said to be reconsidering his vote.

Interestingly, the Thoroughbred Owners of California trade association actually testified against the waiver during the state hearings, citing an estimated $2 million monthly cost to owners of injured horses in Northern California alone, plus the long-term good of racing.

A synthetic track surface was installed last year at Hollywood Park in Southern California, which has the same ownership as Bay Meadows. During the 2005 fall season, seven horses died there of injuries. The 2006 season was that track’s first on artificial surface, and no horses died as a result of injuries.

Berkeley’s Golden Gate Fields is installing a synthetic surfaced track after this spring’s racing season. And it will be awarded additional racing dates by the state. Some of the 500 or more horses housed at Bay Meadows’ year-round stables are also likely to race at additional dates added to the county fairs in Pleasanton and Santa Rosa.

Neither of these county fair tracks has artificial surfacing, which makes one argument for granting a final racing season to Bay Meadows next year. At any rate, whether Bay Meadows holds its final race in the autumn of 2007 or 2008, many Bay Area fans will be deeply saddened by the end of a historic local venue.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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