10/04/2011 1:19PM

Big Fresno Fair: Meet opening with upbeat expectations


Larry Swartzlander, director of operations for the California Authority of Racing Fairs, is confident the 2011 fairs season will end with another strong showing as the Big Fresno Fair opens a two-week run Thursday.

Fairs at Stockton (San Joaquin County), Pleasanton (Alameda County), and Sacramento (California State Fair) showed increases in handle.

“I think Fresno will do well,” Swartzlander predicted. “It’s been successful the past two years.”

The Big Fresno Fair has some positives going into this year’s two-week meet, which runs through Oct. 16.

It will offer four stakes, including a pair of $75,000 races for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

It is also offering more allowance and higher-level claiming races in its condition book this year in hopes of attracting better runners.

The move could pay off, as trainers such as Steve Sherman, who just won the Golden Gate Fields summer meeting, plan to send runners to be stabled at the meeting.

“We’ve got a few more allowance races, and we’re offering four stakes,” said racing secretary Tom Doutrich. “We hope the races will be attractive to trainers and that full fields in those races will be attractive to fans both on track and at satellites.”

The jockey colony will include riders such as Russell Baze, the world’s winningest rider, Aaron Gryder, who just won the Golden Gate summer meeting riding title, Golden Gate runner-up Juan Hernandez, Kevin Krigger, Frank Alvarado, Francisco Duran, and David Lopez.

Under the leadership of its CEO, John Alkire, the fair has $1.2 million in sponsorships, which bring in more community involvement.

Entries went well for the first two days, with 78 runners, including 63 Thoroughbreds, entered for Thursday’s eight-race card and 79, including 72 Thoroughbreds, on Friday’s 10-race card.

Only two Thoroughbred races have fewer than eight entries, including Friday’s running of the $50,000 Harvest Handicap at six furlongs for fillies and mares, which drew seven entrants.

Included in the Harvest Field are 3-year-old California Nectar, a multiple stakes winner who captured the Grade 2 Santa Ynez earlier this year; Point of Reference, who won the California State Fair Sprint in her last start; as well as other stakes winners, Joe Ja, Izzy Rules and Summers Peace. Jaws n’ Paws, who has won two of her past three starts, and recently claimed Alaska Miss, who won her only Northern California start at Pleasanton, round out the field.

TVG is planning two on-site telecasts, which Swartzlander hopes will help out-of-state wagering.