06/08/2003 11:00PM

Entries plentiful as fairs kick off

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STOCKTON, Calif. - The northern California fair racing season commences Wednesday at the San Joaquin County Fair, and despite a one-week overlap with Bay Meadows, entries are strong.

Wednesday's 10 races drew 103 horses, including 75 in seven Thoroughbred races. The Thursday card had 94 entrants, including 79 in eight Thoroughbred races.

The fair season continues through Sept. 1 with stops in Stockton, Pleasanton (Alameda County Fair), Vallejo (Solano County Fair), Santa Rosa (Sonoma County Fair), Bay Meadows (San Mateo County Fair), Ferndale (Humboldt County Fair), and Sacramento (California State Fair). In addition, the Big Fresno Fair runs for two weeks in October.

The first two days of entries were pleasing to Chris Korby, executive director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, and Forrest White, CEO and director of racing of the San Joaquin County Fair.

"We made two recruiting trips to Turf Paradise for the fairs," Korby said. "We've made a lot of backstretch improvements and have worked to make all our tracks safer and more consistent. A lot of things in this state are not friendly to horsemen. We've tried to do things to counter some of those trends."

With nearly 600 horses stabled on the grounds, White is pleased with the horse population.

"We've had a lot of horses come up from Southern California, and Arizona is supporting us fairly well, but bottom-line, there is a shortage of horses everywhere in northern California," White said.

White said Stockton has a bigger pool of horses to draw from because it cards races for Arabians, Appaloosas, Quarter Horses, and mules as well Thoroughbreds.

Stockton has begun to rebound from some down years in the late 1990's.

"Our board made a serious commitment to racing five years ago," White said.

The fair eliminated stakes races and concentrates on competitive racing and good field size.

The jockey colony, particularly for the first week, will be missing the biggest names on the northern California circuit but will include riders such as Danny Boag and Jim Burns, who rate among the leaders in wins on the fair circuit.

The colony is also filled with familiar faces, including Ross Allardyce, as well as Ken Tohill, who is trying to resurrect his career in northern California.

Stockton offers apprentices such as Hector Romero a chance to pick up live mounts.