08/23/2009 11:00PM

Fair offers lower level top dollar


With the two richest stakes races on the fair circuit and high purses for two of the most popular claiming levels, the California State Fair meeting in Sacramento begins its 11-day mixed meeting Wednesday. The meet ends on Labor Day, Sept. 7.

The six-furlong California State Fair Sprint on Saturday and the 1 1/8-mile Governor's Handicap on Labor Day each carries a $75,000 purse. The Sprint, for California-breds, will feature defending champion and Cal Cup Sprint winner Tribesman, who will bring a four-race win streak into the race.

As excited as he is about the stakes races, the fair's director of racing, Dave Elliott, thinks the purses for the overnight races that make up the meat of every race card will lead to large fields. On opening day, 71 horses are set to run in the seven Thoroughbred races.

"We have a good purse schedule," said Elliott. "Our purses are huge for $4,000 runners and $12,500 runners. A $4,000 claiming race will have a $12,000 purse, while the $12,500's will be running for $19,000."

Part of the reason for the bigger purses for the claimers is that the state fair was unsuccessful carding races for higher-level horses last year. Elliott says the state fair filled only three allowance or straight maiden races last year, and he expects a similar result this year.

The fact that both Saratoga and Del Mar are running big races on the two weekends of the State Fair meet should help the simulcast handle, said Elliott. Saratoga is running the Travers on Saturday, while Del Mar will have the Pacific Classic on Sept. 6.

Although there has been some decline in handle during the fair circuit, the executive director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, Chris Korby, says he is "generally satisfied."

"I can't say I'm thrilled the way the summer has gone, but we're pleased with the horse population," he said. "We've been blessed with good numbers with field size."

Elliott said the fair would continue its popular promotion in which 10 fans are chosen to wager $100 to win, place, or show on a horse they like.