California Horse Racing Board’s funding in danger

State politicians increased pressure on the California Horse Racing Board on Wednesday by removing funding unless the oversight body addresses problems, including the sooner-than-expected closing of the Bay Meadows Racecourse.

On Wednesday, the Senate budget review subcommittee that oversees budgets for state administration, general government, judicial and transportation agencies eliminated the California Horse Racing Board’s $10.8 million budget.

Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco-San Mateo, formally requested the move in a letter sent to Sen. Mike Machado, the chair of the subcommittee.

“It sends a message that enough is enough. There have been too many problems raised; Bay Meadows is just one of them,” Yee’s spokesman Adam Keigwin said.

On March 22, the board denied Bay Meadows a waiver that would have exempted racetrack owners from replacing the dirt track with synthetic turf. Synthetic surfaces, considered safer for horses by trainers and riders, are a requirement at any tracks that run more than four weeks of consecutive races. Twenty-five horses died as a result of injuries sustained at Bay Meadows in the racing season that ended April 22.

The lack of a waiver has led owners to close the 73-year-old track at the end of this season, which concludes in November. San Mateo will lose approximately $600,000 in annual revenue and about 500 jobs.

The track where Seabiscuit rose to fame has become the subject of finger pointing, with each side blaming the other for the legendary field’s impending closure.

Sen. Yee, San Mateo leaders and Bay Meadows officials maintain that the horse racing board’s disregard for the economic impact and landmark status of the track will lead to its early closure. In March, Yee called for racing board Chairman Richard Shapiro to resign.

Shapiro and members of the local racing community say that while the decision not to grant the waiver moved the end-date up by at least a year, responsibility for the park closure rests solely on the shoulders of the Bay Meadows Land Company plans to redevelop the property and city approval of those plans. The company plans to demolish the track in roughly two years and build mixed-use retail, commercial and housing complex.

Shapiro said he is more than willing to meet with the senators to address concerns and protect the board’s budget.

“As I’ve said before, I certainly hope that Bay Meadows does not close,” Shapiro said, adding that he has a responsibility to protect the riders and horses.

jgoldman@examiner.com


Get the scoop on the upcoming racing season, which may be the last, at the Bay Meadows web site.

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