07/26/2002 11:00PM

Early Sonoma arrivals get tips


SANTA ROSA, Calif. - It's 10:30 a.m., more than two hours before the first post, and already race fans have filled the park stage area just outside the Sonoma County Fair racetrack.

It's not a day at the races for them if it doesn't start with the daily handicapping seminar.

"It's part of what you do if you come to the races here," said track announcer Vic Stauffer, who co-hosts the seminars with local handicapper Danny Holmes.

This is the 15th year of the seminar. Local cable television personality Rich McGlinchey took over after the first year, adding Frank White as a co-host and later Holmes.

"At first, we held it in the grandstand, and we'd have to stop talking when the water trucks went by," said McGlinchey, a fan of racing for more than 50 years dating back to when his father owned Thoroughbreds.

The seminars are so successful that the California Authority of Racing Fairs has added them to each stop on the summer fair circuit, but none of those seminars attracts the loyal following of the Sonoma County Fair.

The seminars have 50 or 60 regulars, who are there each of the fair's 12 days, but the seminars usually wind up with a standing room only crowd of more than 300 by the time Holmes and Stauffer begin handicapping the card during the final 20 minutes of the seminar.

Holmes, who has authored two books on handicapping, "The Winning Touch" and "It's As Simple As A, B, C," is the driving force behind the show.

"We don't intimidate anyone," Holmes said. "We say there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers, so people aren't afraid to come up and ask questions."

Holmes played a key role in the seminar's success by getting it situated at the park stage in the general fairground. The free seminar attracts fans as well as passers-by, many of whom end up going to the races after learning about racing.

"I think the bottom line is we give people what they want," Holmes said.

The seminar, co-sponsored by Daily Racing Form, is a mix of education about racing, its terminology, information about how to wager and last, but not least, the handicapping of the day's card.

"If we had only a half hour and just did selections, we'd lose a lot of our audience," Holmes said. "This is about the whole spectrum of racing and the fair."