SAN MATEO — The final season at the Bay Meadows race track began Wednesday under partly sunny skies.

Track officials won't rule out the possibility that racing will continue in 2009, but the current season, which lasts through May 11, is likely to be the last in the track's 74-year history.

Bay Meadows Land Co., the owner of the track, is shepherding a project to redevelop the 83-acre site into housing, office and retail space through the city's planning process.

"I've learned never to say never," said Bay Meadows Land Co. spokesman Adam Alberti. "But we are certainly moving forward with the entitlement process and hope to be able to begin construction in 2008."

It appeared last year that 2007 would be the final season for the track. But the California Horse Racing Board granted Bay Meadows a one-year exemption from installing a costly synthetic racing surface that is considered safe for horses.

Then Bay Meadows had to negotiate an agreement with Golden Gate Fields in Albany and other racing stakeholders to secure a slate of racing dates for 2008. Bay Meadows was granted permission to hold all its major races before June in exchange for keeping its stables open until the end of the year.

The final races at Bay Meadows are scheduled to take place over two weeks in August as part of the San Mateo County Fair.

"Nothing is certain in the world," said track President Jack Liebau. "But if, in fact, this is the final season, it's sad."

Friends of Bay Meadows, a group of local citizens, announced Tuesday that it has dropped its legal challenge to the track's redevelopment. Also on Tuesday, Bay Meadows Land Co. failed in its bid to overturn the Indian gaming compacts contained in Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97.

The company, which also owns Hollywood Park in Inglewood, hoped that defeating the tribal agreements, which allow four Southern California tribes to add a total of 17,000 new slot machines, would help improve the fortunes of the state's thoroughbred horseracing industry.

The company spent more than $7 million in its campaign against the compacts, joining forces with other Indian tribes and a casino and hotel workers union.

Staff writer Aaron Kinney can be reached at 650-348-4302 or at akinney@bayareanewsgroup.com.