08/24/2008 11:00PM

Doutrich: Fewer dates would boost business


Tom Doutrich, racing secretary for the Northern California fair circuit this summer, says Northern California racing is at a crossroads.

As the fair season nears its end and with Bay Meadows having raced for the last time, Doutrich has a few suggestions to help with the dwindling horse population in the region. He said he believes a cutback in racing dates and eliminating meet overlaps will improve field size and handle.

Doutrich said giving horses even a week off between Golden Gate Fields and the fair circuit next year could be helpful, and so would eliminating Monday racing at the fairs.

Doutrich says Monday racing at the fairs is something of a Catch-22. Monday racing attracts more fans through fairgrounds turnstiles, but the extra day of racing cuts into field size on weekends when fairs have their best chance to show a big handle.

The State Fair in Sacramento, which is in its second and final week of racing, has had to reduce the number of races it runs because of a shortage of horses. Its planned 16-race doubleheader card last Friday was pared down to only 10 races. Planned 10-race cards the first three days of this week have been cut back to nine races Wednesday and eight on Thursday and Friday. Although the State Fair could have raced on Monday, it chose not to.

One reason for the horse shortage at the State Fair, Doutrich said, is that the meet follows a two-week period when horses raced at both Bay Meadows and Ferndale. That has reduced the Northern California horse inventory until the horses that ran recently can recover and run again.

One thing that has helped attract bigger fields is the minimum $6,250 claiming price for turf races in Northern California, which is a lower minimum than in most other regions. That gives lower-level claimers that are shut out elsewhere a place to run on turf.

"It seems like we've developed a group of turf specialists at $6,250," Doutrich said.

Loss of Bay Meadows hurts handle

State Fair director of racing Dave Elliott said he was pleased with the first week of the meet - which marked the return of Thoroughbred racing there for the first time since 2004.

He cited the all-sources handle of $2.6 million handle on Saturday, including ontrack handle of $417,000.

"We're doing the best we can and keeping positive," he said. "It's been a good first week."

But the State Fair has been hurt by a decline in handle at the state's satellite facilities, Elliott said. Handle at Golden Gate Fields and Pleasanton was down by nearly $140,000 compared with the previous weeks of fair racing this summer. The biggest drop, though, came in San Mateo, where Bay Meadows is located. With the closing of Bay Meadows last week, a new simulcast facility was opened on the San Mateo County fairgrounds.

Simulcast wagering at Bay Meadows had averaged $337,885 for the first three fairs of the summer. But handle was off $150,000 there at the new simulcast facility on the first week of the State Fair, Elliott said.

Tribesman may return in Sprint

Ten were nominated for Saturday's $75,000 California State Fair Sprint, for statebreds going six furlongs, including the multiple stakes winner Tribesman.

Tribesman ran off five straight victories, capped by a win in the $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup at Turf Paradise earlier this year. He followed that race with two subpar efforts and a second in an allowance race on May 16 at Golden Gate Fields.

He got a month's R-and-R at owner Kjell Qvale's farm and has had six works since June 29.

Restless Youth comes off an impressive sprint win at Santa Rosa. He defeated Scrumpy, another California State Fair Sprint nominee, by 2 1/2 lengths, with Jack Hes Tops another length back.

Scrumpy had won nine straight Northern California starts, including the Sam Whiting Handicap at Pleasanton, before losing to Restless Youth.

* Bar JF Red Ticket pulled away late to defeat Hez A-Okay in Saturday's Straight From the Gate Futurity for mules at the State Fair. Only win betting was conducted in the field of six, with the winner paying $2.10 as she improved her career record to 6 for 6. Her full sister, Bar JF Hot Ticket, currently the best mule running, is expected to run this weekend.