08/10/2011 1:04PM

Ferndale opens with hope for strong meet

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Although it faces a double overlap against the Sonoma County Fair its opening weekend and Golden Gate Fields on closing weekend, the 115th Humboldt County Fair at Ferndale seems positioned for a good meeting. The eight-day meet opens Friday and runs through Aug. 21.

Ferndale has two days, next Wednesday and Thursday, when it will be the lone Northern California track running, which should help its business.

The fairs have enjoyed tremendous success this year, and Friday’s opening-day card of seven races attracted 50 entries – not bad considering racing is also being conducted at Santa Rosa. The card comprises two mule races, an Arabian race, and four Thoroughbred races

The meet includes eight stakes in total – for mules, Arabians and Thoroughbreds – including the 58th running of the $15,000 C.J. Hindley Humboldt County Marathon, the 1 5/8-mile closing-day race that sees horses cross the finish line four times.

The fair general manager, Stuart Titus, is pleased with the horse inventory available for the meet.

“I’m excited because we have some new trainers here from Washington, Oregon and Idaho as well as our regulars,” he said.

Young trainers Ramon Pulido and Quinn Howey, who finished one-two in the standings, will be back battling for the 2011 title. Billy Morey will also have a string of Thoroughbreds at the track again this year.

Racing secretary Tom Doutrich said he liked Friday’s competitive card, and added, “A lot of horsemen are still in the process of shipping north to Ferndale so we are very hopeful of filling some good cards this weekend.”

When horsemen arrive in Ferndale, Titus said they will be pleased with the half-mile dirt oval, which has been prepared for the meet by former Southern California track supervisor Steve Wood.

“The track’s in good shape,” he said. “That’s something we try to work hard at. This is the second year Steve Wood has been up here, and he’s done a good job.”

Trainer Phil Oviedo said the track was in “tremendous shape,” comparing it to a pool table.

“The horses I sent out for training Tuesday all appeared to handle the surface fine and just glided over the track,” he said.

Chris Russell, last year’s runner-up in the jockey standings, will be favored to win this year’s title and has five mounts opening day.

Russell does not ride mules, but there are plenty of mule riders available, including Luis Godoy, who shared the mixed-breed riding title with James Wooten last year. Wooten is not riding due to a licensing problem.