07/07/2002 11:00PM

Another go-round at the fair


VALLEJO, Calif. - The future of racing at the Solano County Fair may be cloudy, but one thing is clear as the track prepares for opening day Wednesday. The approach for the 2002 meet is positive.

"The most exciting thing is the work we've done to the backstretch, which was in need of improvement," fair general manager Kim Myrman said. "We've made a lot of improvements, and the trainers here have expressed a fairly high level of satisfaction.

"From what I hear from the trainers, the track is in great shape, too."

The Solano County Fair is one of the smaller fairs on the northern California summer circuit. Unlike the San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton, it does not face an overlap with one of the major tracks, but attendance and handle have not been particularly good in recent years.

Handle has been down at the summer's first two fairs. It was down 3 percent at Stockton as $14.94 million was wagered and was down 5 percent at Pleasanton with $32.66 million wagered.

This year's fields have been smaller on average than last year, but Wednesday's opening day Vallejo card had four overflow fields and two others with nine entrants among eight Thoroughbred races and four overflow fields and a full 10-horse field among seven Thoroughbred races Thursday.

There have been concerns about attendance and handle in recent years at Vallejo. In addition, the fair is located on prime land that is considered both the gateway to the Bay Area and northern California wine country.

The fair board began developing a master plan for the property last year. It is expected to be finalized in August and made public in September.

"No final decisions have been made. We are still analyzing issues," Myrman said.

The elimination of the racetrack is one possible option and could come as early as next year, which would alter the summer racing schedule in northern California.

With all options still being analyzed and discussed, the fair is trying to boost both attendance and handle at the racetrack.

"We know there are potential challenges, but we hope to introduce racing to new people," Myrman said. One promotion Myrman thinks will be popular is called win-place-show, in which fans select a horse in the eighth race and those who select the first three finishers split $1,000.

"We think the win-place show promotion will keep fans at the track," Myrman said. "We have a strong entertainment lineup to attract people to the fair, and we hope to get them down to racing."

The fair successfully appealed to the California Horse Racing Board to be open on Monday, July 15, which normally would have been a dark day with no other track operating in the state.

The fair is promoting its "Big Monday" with the appearance of Tom Brohammer, Steve Davidowitz, and James Quinn, who wrote chapters of "Bet With The Best," a handicapping book published by Daily Racing Form.

Fans at the track and at satellite locations will compete in a contest against the pros, sponsored by XpressBet, that includes a $5,000 grand prize.