06/13/2005 12:00AM

Fair schedule gets several new wrinkles


STOCKTON, Calif. - Is the 2005 northern California Fair schedule a preview of a new look for summers to come?

Less regional competition, the elimination of Thoroughbred racing at the State Fair in Sacramento, and the debut of the first turf course at a fair will be seen when the fair season begins Wednesday at the San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton.

The trend toward fewer overlapped dates begins immediately as Golden Gate Fields is dark on Wednesday and Thursday, allowing Stockton to offer the only live racing in northern California.

"That will be good for us," said Forrest White, the fair's general manager. "We'll also run later on Fridays and serve as a bridge to Hollywood Park's evening card.

"You lose fans [out-of-state] if there's nothing on. This will keep people occupied with racing. It's a plus for us, Golden Gate, and Hollywood Park."

Golden Gate Fields will conclude its season with racing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Wednesday's opening day at Stockton drew 101 entrants for a 10-race all-Thoroughbred card. Thursday's 10-race card has 86 entries, including 66 in seven Thoroughbred races.

The decision by the State Fair to offer harness racing in a one-year experiment prompted the California Horse Racing Board to eliminate those 12 days of Thoroughbred racing instead of assigning them to someone else.

The Bay Meadows Fair will be dark on Monday, Aug. 15, allowing Ferndale to run as the lone live racing site in northern California, and on Monday, Aug. 22. Instead it will run Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 24-25, and the regular Bay Meadows meet will open a week early on Aug. 26.

With the early opening, Bay Meadows will be dark during the weekdays that the Big Fresno Fair runs, helping to lessen the northern California overlap even more.

Chris Korby, director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, said the elimination of the first two days of overlap with Stockton was a group effort.

"We sat down with Magna and appreciate their cooperation," he said.

Korby said that CARF continues its backstretch improvement program and that Pleasanton has torn down its old jockey quarters to improve the paddock and make racing more accessible to fairgoers.

"We think track safety and maintenance are important," Korby said. "We're trying to improve the consistency of all the tracks because that helps bolster our recruitment program and, hopefully, keeps some of the better horses here."

Stockton has improved its front side, fixing up the apron and food stands and spending more than $100,000 in the barn area for a vet's office. It also upgraded security as required by state rules and regulations. The latest improvements mean more than $1 million has been spent on improvements at Stockton over the past five years.

Maiden christens turf course

Santa Rosa's new turf course was scheduled to get its first test Tuesday when trainer Steve Specht worked Johnny McArthy over it.

The course, which was planted in October, is a blend, primarily of Tall Fescue with some bluegrass.

"We planted grass rather than laying sod because it would have a better root system than sod," said Jim Moore, former fair manager and current director of racing. "It's been through the winter and spring."

Moore pointed out that Bernie Eastridge, the turf superintendent at Bay Meadows, inspected the new course "and he was confident it would hold up with two races a day."

Races at one mile, 1 1/16 miles, and five furlongs can be contested on the course, which will have two rail settings. One-and-a-half-mile races can also be held, although Moore said the bulk of the races would be one mile or 1 1/16 miles.

Specht, who lives in Santa Rosa, has watched the progress of the course and says it looks very good.

He was originally planning to work stakes-winning mare Our Mango over the course Monday but changed his plans in part because he needed to give her a strong work and wasn't sure how fast she would be able to work over the new course.

He decided to use the maiden Johnny McArthy because he hopes to run him in a maiden turf race at Golden Gate Fields on Sunday and because the horse doesn't need a hard work.

"I really just want him to finish well," Specht said.

"We're pleased with the course," Moore said. "We hope [Specht] will go back and let others know that it is a good course."

The course will be dedicated on the opening Saturday of the meet, July 30. The Luther Burbank for fillies and mares will be run on the turf, as will the meet's premier race, the $100,000 Joseph Grace.

Steward assignments

CHRB executive director Ingrid Fermin has given several new stewards assignments during the fair season.

Nancy Ury will join Will Meyers and Pam Berg at Stockton, with Anne Daftary and Paul Nicolo each filling in several days for Berg, who will be attending an industry conference.

Daftary, who worked eight years as a steward but had not been given an assignment since the 1994 Fresno meeting, has also been assigned the meetings at Pleasanton and Ferndale.

"I wasn't expecting to get another opportunity," Daftary said.

Nicolo, who has substituted in the stewards stand at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields, will do the Santa Rosa and Ferndale meets.

Berg, Daftary, and Scott Chaney are assigned to do Pleasanton. Berg, Chaney, and Darrell McHargue will work at Solano. Berg, McHargue, and Nicolo have the assignment at Santa Rosa. McHargue, Chaney, and Ury are assigned the Bay Meadows Fair. Daftary, Nicolo, and Tom Ward will work at Ferndale.

At a glance: Stockton

RACING SCHEDULE: 10 days; June 15-26. Dark June 20-21

POST TIME: 12:45 p.m. Pacific; Fridays, 3:15 p.m.

ADMISSIONS: $8, included in fair admission

PARKING: $5 general; $7 preferred

LOCATION: 1658 S. Airport Way, Stockton, Calif.

PHONE: (209) 466-5041

INTERNET: www.sanjoaquinfair.com

2005 Northern California Fair Schedule

June 15-26San Joaquin CountyStockton
June 29-July 10Alameda CountyPleasanton
July 13-25Solano CountyVallejo
July 27-Aug. 8Sonoma CountySanta Rosa
Aug. 10-25San Mateo CountyBay Meadows
Aug. 11-21Humboldt CountyFerndale
Oct. 5-16Big FresnoFresno