Bay Meadows shouldn’t
stand in way of progress

Apr 3, 2007 12:50 AM

Garden State Park, which once showcased legends such as Citation, Dr. Fager and Secretariat, is now an elaborate shopping center in Cherry Hill, N.J., its once-familiar facade replaced by dust and memories.

Bay Meadows race track, which has stood the test of time for nearly three-quarters of a century, could be the next track to join Garden State in thoroughbred racing’s graveyard.

On March 22, commissioners on the California Horse Racing Board voted 4-2 to deny a request by Bay Meadows for an exception in installing a synthetic surface by the end of this year as mandated by the CHRB.

A CHRB news release stated: "The CHRB adopted a regulation last May stating that effective Jan. 1, 2008, no racing association that operates four weeks of continuous thoroughbred racing in a calendar year shall be licensed to conduct a horse racing meeting at a facility that has not installed a polymer synthetic type racing surface."

It continued: "Hollywood Park installed a synthetic surface over the summer. There were no fatalities relating to the surface among horses training in Inglewood so far this year. Del Mar is in the process of installing Polytrack right now, and Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita have plans to install synthetic surfaces this summer. The Bay Meadows Land Company, which owns Bay Meadows, is in the process of obtaining building permits for the commercial and residential development of the valuable San Mateo property. Indications are the entitlement process could take three more years."

Said Bay Meadows President Jack Liebau, citing the estimated $8 million cost: "There is no way it makes economic sense at this point in time for Bay Meadows to put in a synthetic track. Really, the choice comes down to whether we close on Dec. 31, 2007, or we don’t."

Barring a form reversal, the closing of Bay Meadows is a fait accompli. One man who echos the sentiment of most horsemen is Bay Area-based trainer Greg Gilchrist, who is as much a part of the Northern California landscape as the Golden Gate Bridge. Gilchrist has trained at Bay Meadows and the Magna-owned Golden Gate Fields for most of his 58 years.

"I certainly wish Bay Meadows was not going away, for both business and personal reasons," Gilchrist said. "It’s been a part of my life since I was a little boy, but progress is not always good. Should Bay Meadows close, I would hope Magna sees it as an opportunity to expand its racing activities in Northern California, because I’m sure Magna would get a lot of those (more than 100 racing) days that have been allotted to Bay Meadows. It would be a great chance for Magna to step up if it really wants a first-class facility and race meet."

News of Bay Meadows’ demise has been bandied about for some time. "Initially, Bay Meadows was going to close years ago," Gilchrist said. "Every year we’ve heard it’s going to close, but this year, the city, the county and the state finally approved the Bay Meadows sale to put in theme parks or whatever.

"I know Liebau went (before the CHRB) and tried for an extension of another year or two (to install the synthetic surface), but since the mandate was established and the other tracks have complied, what do you think they’re going to do? They’re not going to sit idly by while Bay Meadows gets a free pass for a year or two. Jack’s acting like he’s being abused by not getting an extension, from everything that I read.

"But Mr. Shapiro (CHRB Chairman Richard Shapiro) had it correct in his statement that the CHRB does not want to stop racing at Bay Meadows," Gilchrist stated. "It’s the Bay Meadows Land Company that wants to stop it. It would be fine with the racing board if Bay Meadows kept running, but when your race track is owned by a real estate development company, that kind of says it all. And since Bay Meadows Land Company owns Hollywood Park, you would have to wonder how much longer that track will be in existence; probably until they decide it’s more valuable to sell and develop than it is to continue racing. That’s probably what they’ll do there, too.

"Is Bay Meadows Land Company in business for racing or in it for themselves? Personally, I understand it’s just business. Do I like it? I really don’t. But I do understand that they’re a land development company and that’s what they do. At the same time, you can’t have it both ways.

"I like Mr. Shapiro’s view that tracks doing the best business should have the prime dates. It’s long overdue that we’ve had someone at the head of the CHRB who feels like he does. He wants to reward those who want to improve racing. For example, Santa Rosa (Fair) put in a turf course a couple years ago and already has been granted another week of racing this year, and from what I hear, it’s going to get four weeks next year.

"So those who are stepping up and investing their money and trying to do what’s right for the racing industry are being rewarded by the CHRB. Those who are keeping the status quo or going backwards are not, and that’s what California racing needs: progress," he concluded.

The homestretch

”¡ Add News You Can Bet On: You read it here weeks ago that Invasor was at a disadvantage when Discreet Cat beat him in last year’s UAE Derby. Invasor’s trainer Kiaran McLaughlin pointed out that his horse — 1. was experiencing dirt hitting him in the face for the first time, 2, did not have his regular jockey, and 3. was spotting Discreet Cat nine pounds.

Invasor’s decisive victory over Premium Tap in Saturday’s World Cup (Discreet Cat suffered his first defeat and finished last of seven, beaten 23 lengths) substantiated full well McLaughlin’s profound observations.

”¡ And remember, when life looks darkest, it could always be worse. You could wake up every morning in bed with Rosie O’Donnell.