08/13/2012 1:48PM

Ferndale: Humboldt County Fair meet opens with new competition

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The eight-day Humboldt County Fair meet in Ferndale, Calif., begins Wednesday, with new competition for horses.

With Portland Meadows running a summer meet for the first time, claiming horses from the Northwest that might have made the trip to Ferndale now have a reason to stay home. But Humboldt County Fair manager Stuart Titus thinks Ferndale will be able to hold its own.

“We have a strong influx of about 50 horses from Boise,” he said.

The meet runs on Wednesday and Friday-Sunday for two weeks. Titus said Ferndale considered adding a ninth day to the meet, but decided the number of available horses merited an eight-day meet.

“We will have between 330 and 350 horses on the grounds if everyone shows up, but we felt it was better to run eight days,” he said.

Ferndale has widened the second turn on the half-mile track by six feet, which will allow for more banking and improved safety for horses and riders, Titus said. In the past, the first horse into the turn usually had a major advantage, but with the wider track and the banking, horses running wide should be able to stay in contention better.

The meeting’s signature race, the 1 5/8-mile C.J. Hindley-Humboldt County Marathon, will have a record purse of $30,000. Horses cross the finish line four times during the Marathon, which is run on closing day, Aug. 26.

“We hope it will be a wide-open race again and that we’ll have a full field,” Titus said.

Barrington Harvey, who has ridden the past two Marathon winners, Come Back Native in 2010 and Blue Steel last year, will be riding at the fair again this year. Southern California regular Matt Garcia, who won the 2009 Ferndale jockey title, plans to return to the track this year. Shyann Garcia, who finished third in the jockey standings last year behind Chris Russell and Harvey, also will be back.

Trainers Phil Oviedo and Santiago Rodriguez, who dead-heated for the training title last year with five Thoroughbred winners each, will return, as will 85-year-old Elmer January, who tied for second with Quinn Howey with four winners last year.

There will be free racetrack admission on both Wednesdays and Fridays of the meet.