12/07/2006 12:00AM

Fairs agree to shift dates

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The Solano County Fair and Sonoma County Fair have reached an agreement that would transfer one week of racing from Solano to Sonoma next summer. The arrangement would require regulatory approval from the California Horse Racing Board, which as of Thursday had not received a request from either fair association.

The Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa is the most successful stop on the northern California fair circuit from a business standpoint, and its facilities include a turf course. The Solano County Fair in Vallejo has struggled in recent years.

Financial considerations concerning the proposed dates shift will not be discussed until the fairs make their presentation to the CHRB, but Joe Barkett, Solano's general manager and director of racing, said the agreement should not be viewed as Solano "selling its dates." Barkett called the agreement to consolidate racing dates between the two fairs a good opportunity "in light of what's going on in northern California's racing climate" and said it was necessary to "prepare for potential opportunities there" if Bay Meadows were to cease operations. The Bay Meadows Land Co., which owns that track, plans to cease racing and develop the land, possibly as soon as 2008.

Corey Oakley, manager of the Sonoma County Fair, is not in his office this week but was quoted in a press release as saying: "It has long been our strategy to extend the meet to capture more of the economic benefits racing offers the community, and the combination of the new turf track with the shortening of the Solano County Fair schedule created an opportunity we couldn't pass up."

Under the agreement, Solano would race five days, July 11-16, with Santa Rosa picking up its second week before its two regularly scheduled weeks. Racing at Santa Rosa would begin July 19 and run through Aug. 6.

Chris Korby, executive director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, agreed with Barkett about the importance of experimenting outside of traditional fair dates.

Korby said he hoped the CHRB would "allow us to try some of these pilot projects."

Although Richard Shapiro, chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, said he had not thoroughly reviewed the plan, he liked the concept of it.

"It appears to be exactly what we've been urging the fairs to do - create better racing and generate increased revenue for horse racing," he said.