07/15/2007 11:00PM

Calif. fair circuit moves on to Sonoma


SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Northern California fairs move into uncharted territory Wednesday when the Sonoma portion of the combined Solano-Sonoma Wine Country race meeting shifts here from Vallejo. The Solano County Fair meeting in Vallejo ran for one week, and now the Sonoma County Fair meet in Santa Rosa will run for three weeks, including one week after the fair closes. It will be the first time a fair meet runs without an actual fair to accompany the racing.

"We're all looking - all the fairs and the horse racing industry - at how the third week will go," Solano general manager and director of racing Joe Barkett said.

Sonoma's director of racing Jim Moore expects the third week to do better in the future than it may in its first year this year. Moore is again serving as fair manager on an interim basis for this year after retiring from that job two years ago.

"We'll need more participation from folks in the Bay Area that third week," he said. "We think of Santa Rosa as a destination spot."

The Solano and Sonoma fairs share revenues for all four weeks of racing.

Barkett suggested the partnership arrangement between the two fairs two years ago. The fairs won approval of the California Horse Racing Board late last year to share their four weeks of dates this year, with Santa Rosa running an additional week.

"In some ways, it's pretty much the same as it's been," Moore said of the racing.

Racing secretary Greg Brent wrote a condition book to cover the four weeks of both meetings and was able to coordinate races in hopes of getting horses to run twice in the four-week period.

The Santa Rosa turf course gives Brent even more flexibility.

"We race here only three weeks, and we'll utilize the turf course to the fullest," said Brent, who would like to card as many as three races a day on the turf if he can.

Three major changes were made in the stakes schedule here.

The Joseph T. Grace, which had been the only $100,000 race on the fair circuit, has seen its purse cut in half to $50,000 this year, in part because of purse overpayments and because the race hasn't attracted as many runners as hoped the past few years.

The Ernest Finley sprint has been dropped from the stakes schedule, due, in part, to the paucity of sprinters in Northern California at this time.

One new stakes has been added: the Wine Country Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, giving them a race like their male counterparts in the Cavonnier Juvenile Stakes.

The Luther Burbank for fillies and mares will again be run on the turf, as will the Grace.