Racetrack’s end could halt county fair

The possible premature closure of Bay Meadows Race Course is having ripple effects throughout the county — the latest being the possible cancellation of the San Mateo County Fair next year.

More than $500,000 in betting revenue — which goes to the county fair and is generated by about a dozen horse-racing days at the track — could disappear under a proposal that would eliminate the long-standing racing days assigned to Bay Meadows, according to officials. The revenue goes to offset about one-third of the total cost of the fair, county Event Center General Manager Chris Carpenter said.

Losing that revenue could put the fair in dire straits, forcing it to drastically downsize or roll up the tents all together in 2008, said Carpenter.

Bay Meadows — which is scheduled to be redeveloped into 1.25 million square feet of office space and 1,250 multi-family residential units beginning in 2009 — recently failed to receive a temporary waiver from the state Horse Racing Board that would have allowed it to continue racing without installing an expensive synthetic track that is safer for horses.

Without the waiver, which Bay Meadows hopes to appeal in coming weeks, the racetrack would have to close down at the end of 2007, leaving unanswered the question of where the San Mateo County Fair could race horses if it was allotted horse-racing days by the state Horse Racing Board, officials said.

Unlike other California fairs that coordinate horse racing days, the San Mateo County Event Center and fairgrounds contracts with nearby Bay Meadows to manage its horse-racing schedule.

Each year, the state Horse Racing Board approves a racing calendar assigning a limited number of race days to various tracks and fairs throughout the state, Carpenter said.

Even if Bay Meadows closes, the fair could make a deal with another track to hold its allotted race days, just as the Solano County Fair is doing with Sonoma County this year, said Bay Meadows Racing Association President Jack Liebau.

“If we don’t take this action today to begin a concerted dialogue and possible battle with the state Horse Racing Board, we’re in jeopardy of losing the 2008 San Mateo County Fair,” said Supervisor Jerry Hill, who introduced an emergency ordinance at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting calling on the county to coordinate with state lawmakers to secure race dates for the fair.

The board unanimously approved the resolution.

Calls to the California Horse Racing Board for comment were not returned by deadline Tuesday.

The board plans to discuss the northern California horse-racing dates at a meeting May 22.

Liebau alleged that other California counties have conspired with the Horse Racing Board to “cut out” San Mateo County in order to boost their own bottom lines by absorbing race days that would normally go to San Mateo County.

“It’s all a result of greed,” Liebau said. “It’s a terrible and unconscionable thing they have done.”

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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