07/10/2012 2:50PM

Cal Expo meet at Sacramento opening with larger horse population

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Although entries for the first three days of racing at the California State Fair at Cal Expo in Sacramento are light, racing secretary Tom Doutrich has reason to be hopeful that the eight-day meeting will prove as successful as last year’s did. The Sacramento meeting begins Thursday and ends July 22, with racing Thursday through Sunday on both weeks.

“We actually have 75 more horses stabled on the grounds,” Doutrich said. “Having a few more horses on the grounds is good.

“When Hollywood Park’s season ends this week, we hope to pick up some horses that won’t be going to Del Mar.”

Only 56 runners signed up for the eight-race opening-day card, an average of seven per race. Fifty-four were entered for Friday’s eight races, and there is one full field of 10. Fifty-six runners were entered for Saturday and only eight races filled.

The State Fair showed an increase in handle last year over 2010, and purses have been raised for 2012. Purses are higher at Sacramento than the four other major stops on the fair circuit – Pleasanton, Santa Rosa, Stockton and Fresno – to encourage trainers to ship to the site. Sacramento is located farther from Golden Gate Fields than Santa Rosa, and horseman frequently have to contend with much hotter weather than in the Bay Area.

As a result, purses are boosted in all claiming categories. The $4,000 claiming level, which carried an $8,700 purse at Golden Gate Fields and $12,000 purse at Pleasanton, climbs to $15,000 at Sacramento.

The State Fair will host the $75,000 California State Fair Fillies and Mares Sprint on July 21, Northern California’s first sprint stakes of 2012 year for females.

For fans, the State Fair has an innovative program each day that will allow them to walk on the track and learn about the composition and maintenance of the surface. Called Track Walk, it is held 45 minutes before first post (1 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and 3 p.m. Friday) beginning in the winner’s circle with a walk on the track to the finish line. Fans will also receive a sample of the racetrack surface in a special container.

Every day, five fans will win a free $50 wager.