12/18/2002 1:00AM

Fair idea: A grass course


ALBANY, Calif. - Jim Moore, general manager of the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa, is planning to approach the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 7 to request funds to build a turf course at the fair.

"The number one thing the industry has said it wants is some opportunity for turf racing in summer months," Moore said.

"We here in Santa Rosa feel strongly about staying in the business [of racing]. If that's what it takes to stay competitive, that's what we want to do."

For almost two months in the summer, racing in northern California moves to the fair circuit, where none of the tracks have turf courses. During that time, horsemen with grass horses are faced with limited options - dirt, Del Mar, or vacation.

The idea of constructing a turf course at Santa Rosa, which is about an hour north of the Bay Area, has the backing of both the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers.

"I think it's wonderful," trainer Gloria Haley said. "It will open up a lot of opportunities for northern California trainers to keep turf horses home for the summer."

Trainer Chuck Peery said he didn't know if building a turf course for a meeting that lasts only 12 days was wise, but he was enthusiastic about the possibility.

"It would help owners and horsemen," Peery said. "It would improve racing no end."

Peery and Gil Matos, usually a top trainer at Santa Rosa, both suggested the addition of a turf course might help Santa Rosa acquire additional racing dates.

"That could be our Del Mar," Peery said. "I think many trainers would move horses up there and set up their stables if the meet were a month long. That would be wonderful to condense two or three meetings and have a longer meet at Santa Rosa."

The status of the Solano County Fair in Vallejo is tenuous, and if that meet were to be eliminated it would open up extra dates, perhaps for Santa Rosa. But Moore said, "I told the fair board here we should not go in thinking there would be more racing dates available. I think it's worth doing even with the dates we have."

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who has been a proponent of summer turf racing, was cautious in his approach to a turf course in Santa Rosa.

"In order to use a turf course, you have to have enough good horses," Hollendorfer said. "That's why I leave here [in the summer], to run those kinds of horses."

Hollendorfer added that turf racing would be an option at both Golden Gate and Bay Meadows if they had summer race dates.

If a turf course were installed at Santa Rosa, it would not be operational until 2004 at the earliest.