08/05/2008 12:00AM

Black Ruby's swan song Ferndale highlight


A fond farewell to the racing mule legend Black Ruby and the annual renewal of the 1 5/8-mile Humboldt County Marathon highlight the Humboldt County Fair meet, which begins Thursday and runs through Sunday, Aug. 17.

Black Ruby, the 16-year-old queen of the mules, is set to make her final appearance under racing silks during the fair. Black Ruby has won 70 races. Owners Sunny and Mary McPherson targeted Ferndale for her final start because of her popularity there.

The track is located in the Victorian village of Ferndale, Calif., and its half-mile oval is the smallest in the state. It also may be the most charming track in California, carrying fans back to a different era in racing.

The closing-day feature, the Humboldt County Marathon, has horses pass the finish line four times in one of the most unusual spectacles in racing.

While the Thoroughbred racing stock is generally of the lower claiming variety, fields are full and the racing is exciting, with fans holding their collective breath wondering how their choice will negotiate the unbanked turns.

The track also runs a full contingent of mules and Arabians.

On the Thoroughbred side, trainer Karen Haverty will be seeking her fourth straight training championship.

Armando Lage, one of Northern California’s leading trainers, plans to send five horses to Ferndale and also plans to come there and watch them run.

“I have heard so many great things about Ferndale that I finally decided to make the trip, run some horses and make this into a working vacation,” said Lage.

Post times are 2:25 p.m. weekdays, 3:25 p.m. Friday and 1:55 p.m. weekends. With the Bay Meadows Fair dark next Monday, Ferndale will offer Northern California’s only live racing that day.