06/25/2007 12:00AM

Fan-friendly changes, and lots of stakes


PLEASANTON, Calif. - Hoping to keep positive momentum going after a strong Stockton meeting, the Alameda County Fair opens its 11-day racing season Wednesday.

"Things are looking good," said Rick Pickering, fair CEO and director of racing.

Horse inventory is good, although racing secretary Bob Moreno said the non-Thoroughbred entries seemed a bit light.

"We may have to look to Thoroughbreds to help some of our cards, but that should help our handle," Moreno said. "This year, we have a little more [purse] money to work with, so we'll run some maiden allowance races. We're also getting good interest in the 2-year-old stakes the first weekend."

The fair has its full complement of stakes races, with sprints for 2-year-old fillies and an open 2-year-old race. In addition, it has the Sam J. Whiting, a six-furlong sprint that is traditionally tough, as well as the Alameda County Fillies and Mares Handicap and Alamedan Handicap.

Pleasanton is the lone fair track open to training year-round.

Pickering said the track is making an effort to become more fan-friendly. The Turfside Terrace turf club has been expanded to three levels after a successful debut last year. It already has 1,000 reservations for the meet.

Shady areas have been expanded on the apron and around the paddock for the comfort of fans.

Pickering said TVG will have expanded Pleasanton coverage, and handicapper Gordon Jones will provide paddock commentary for fans before each race. The track also will have an 11:15 a.m. daily handicapping seminar located at the food court in front of the track entrance.

Pleasanton is the fair track that may be most affected by the ultimate closure of Bay Meadows because of its location in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pickering said the track is studying the feasibility of installing a synthetic racing surface and a turf course and redoing the grandstand in anticipation of picking up racing dates once Bay Meadows closes.

"We're looking at a variety of options," he said, "but you don't have money [for improvements] unless you have dates."