08/12/2009 12:00AM

Bigger purses, more horses at fair


With its quaint surroundings and bullring racetrack, the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale, Calif., is as popular with its fans as racing anywhere in California.

Locals call it "Ferndale fever," and Ferndale fans could see the best racing ever at this year's meet.

"We've got some supplemental purse money, so that our purses will be the same as other fairs," Humboldt County Fair general manager Stuart Titus said.

While Ferndale is a meet that caters to lower-end horses, the purse increase has every backstretch stall full, with more Thoroughbreds than ever arriving for the eight-day meet that begins Friday. Titus says more Oregon-based runners than ever are expected to attend the meet because of the purse increase.

The increase in purses is reflected in the meet's signature race, the 1 5/8-mile C.J. Hindley Humboldt County Marathon, where runners pass the finish line four times. The Marathon purse will be a record $25,000.

Titus says that with so many horses on the grounds, the fair plans to run a second 1 5/8-mile race on closing day just before the Marathon, which is traditionally the last race of the meet.

The fair cut two days from its usual 10-day schedule. The meet opens Friday, instead of Thursday, and, like other fairs as well as Del Mar, will be dark Monday.

"With so many horses, we may still run the same number of races as last year," Titus said. "We might be able to go with nine or 10 races."

The jockey race could be as exciting as the horse racing, now that eight-time champion Danny Boag has retired. Rachel Goodgame, James Wooten Jr., and Jorge Ayarza tied for second behind Boag last year.

Boag will be at the fair, serving as the agent for Wooten and Matt Garcia, who rode here in the early 1990s before going on to fame in Southern California.

Goodgame has won the Land of Jazz Stakes here the past three years, while Ayarza completed a double by winning the meet's top two stakes last year, the Les Mademoiselle and Marathon.