Officials seeking ways to keep Bay Meadows open 

The final word on Bay Meadows may have yet to be spoken, as officials from San Mateo and around California fight to give the legendary course a 74th year of races.

The fate of Bay Meadows — once graced by horses such as Seabiscuit and Native Diver — may have been sealed on Thursday when the California Horse Racing Board denied the track’s application for a rule waiver to keep races going. But local leaders are working to keep races going for another year to preserve their hold onto the track, $600,000 in annual revenue to San Mateo and more than 500 jobs.

"I think the people that voted against it didn’t fully understand the impact that closing Bay Meadows would have," said board member John Harris, who initially voted to grant the waiver. "We hadn’t assessed the ripple effects it would have on the community and the people."

As of now, races will end in November and the track will close a month later because without a mandatory synthetic track, Bay Meadows cannot get a license for racing after Jan. 1, 2008. In a 4-2 vote, the racing board rejected their request for a two-year waiver of the rule.

Bay Meadows President Jack Liebau said one more year of racing was not worth the approximately $10 million it would have cost to replace the dirt track with a syntheticsurface that provides a better running place for horses. The Bay Meadows Land Co. is working on site plans and permit applications to turn the site into a mixed-use housing, retail and office complex.

"As much as I feel for the historical racetrack not continuing as a beautiful platform for horses, the end of this track began when the Bay Meadows Land Co. bought the property," said board member Jerry Moss, who voted to deny the waiver.

But the cost of using the dirt track is even greater than the cost to replace it with a new surface, Thoroughbred Owners of California President Drew Couto said. He said injured horses cost owners approximately $2 million a month in Northern California alone.

Racing Board Chairman Richard Shapiro suggested that the Bay Meadows Land Co. look into purchasing the new track and trying to sell it when it comes time to redevelop the property. Liebau said he doesn’t know of any potential bidders for a surface like that.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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