Racers bristle at request for early schedule

Despite being granted a year of racing in 2008, Bay Meadows Race Course is still without a schedule for its final year, which could have a far-reaching impact on horse racing in Northern California.

On Aug. 22, the California Horse Racing Board will hold its second hearing of the month to hammer out a schedule for races at fairs and racetracks in Northern California. Bay Meadows owners have hoped for races earlier than traditionally held in the year, but other racing stakeholders say that such a schedule could hurt the area’s racing community.

Most major racetracks have two meets each year. The first season this year at Bay Meadows ran from February to April, and the season that begins Aug. 22 will end in the first week of November. The track is asking for racing dates in the first half of the year.

Bay Meadows President Jack Liebau said the track asked for the earlier dates as a trade-off for picking up races this season for Golden Gates Field, which is installing a regulation synthetic surface at the Albany course.

But racing stakeholders fear that the Bay Meadows Land Co. is trying to get horse racing out of the way with earlier dates so it can begin its demolition of the 73-year-old track for a mixed-use complex.

“They’ve made it very clear to the horse-racing board that they would like to race their dates as early in the year as possible, and that leads to discomfort for the board and many owners,” Golden Gate Fields General Manager Robert Hartman said.

The possibility of a front-loaded Bay Meadows season also worries members of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, who are part of the schedule negotiations.

“They cherry-picked the most lucrative days and gave a very limited time to local horsemen to make the changes necessary to make this industry strong and vital in the north,” President Drew Couto said. “We would much prefer to see Bay Meadows run its full year of traditional dates, including the fall, because it gives everyone ample time to make adjustments.”

Early dates can also be a larger draw for racetracks, Liebau said, because tracks can piggyback on the attention generated by the Triple Crown races — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes — held in May and June.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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