06/25/2002 11:00PM

Comiskey's death darkens Fair mood

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PLEASANTON, Calif. - Opening day of the Alameda County Fair Wednesday was tinged with sadness as horsemen and fans learned of the death of popular trainer Charlie Comiskey.

Comiskey, 76, who lived in the neighboring town of Livermore, died Sunday. A private family service was held Thursday.

Comiskey first became associated with the racing industry when he parents purchased a Thoroughbred in 1937. The next year, at age 13, Comiskey began walking hots for trainer Charlie Irby. He later groomed for Willard Blake.

Comiskey entered the U.S. Navy in 1941, returning to civilian life in 1947. He got his training license that same year and saddled his first official winner, Dinner Guest, in 1948 at Bay Meadows.

Comiskey was one of the most popular trainers on the backstretch.

"He was one of the nicest people to work with," said Val Tohill, a long-time trainer who helped Comiskey with the two horses that remained in his barn this spring.

Comiskey won the 1957 training title at the old Tanforan track. He won titles at Hollywood Park, Golden Gate Fields, and Bay Meadows in 1964. He tied for the 1980-81 Bay Meadows title, and won the 1982 Golden Gate Fields title.

His favorite - if not best - horse was Charlie's Notes, named by his wife, Jo, for his habit of always writing notes to himself.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter, Andrea Walker, and a son, Charles Jr.

Fillies sprint in feature

Friday's Alameda County Fair feature is a six-furlong allowance race for fillies and mares, 3 and up.

The field is: Devil Dancing, Moonfest, High Bolly, Little Bird, Soup N' Crackers, Rich Domino, and Two Four Dancer.

Eleven nominated for Whiting

Eleven sprinters were nominated for Saturday's $50,000 Sam J. Whiting Memorial Handicap. This six-furlong race traditionally has one of the strongest fields of the fair season.

Multiple sprint stakes-winner Beyond Brilliant and Sempai, winner of five of his past six starts, head the nominees.

Also nominated is 3-year-old Steady Rollin, winner of his first two starts, including the Sutter Handicap on Dec. 30 at Golden Gate Fields.