07/27/2009 11:00PM

Field sizes strong to start meet


The Sonoma County Fair meet in Santa Rosa, Calif., begins a two-week run Wednesday, and like at every track around the country officials there are concerned about field size. But if the first three days of the meet are any indication, they won't have much to worry about.

The first day of racing, 67 horses (after early scratches) are ready to run in the eight Thoroughbred races. A total of 88 (including also-eligibles) were entered for the eight Thoroughbred races on Thursday, and 90 were entered for Friday.

Still, there is concern that the closing of Bay Meadows last year may have an effect on the meet. Golden Gate will conduct a short meeting after Santa Rosa closes, and fair officials think some of the horses that usually would ship in from Golden Gate are likely to stay there and run at home.

Santa Rosa director of racing Richard Lewis noted that many of these horses train over the Tapeta surface at Golden Gate, and their trainers may not want to ship the 40 miles from Albany to Santa Rosa to run on dirt.

"This year, they may be more prepared to run at Golden Gate," Lewis said.

Yet the Santa Rosa backstretch is full, Lewis said, and the presence of a turf course should attract horses whose only option at other fair tracks is dirt.

Former Bay Meadows and current Hollywood Park turf superintendent Bernie Eastridge has been working as a consultant to keep the turf course in shape, Lewis said.

"The turf looks and feels really good," he said.

There are three stakes scheduled for the meet, each worth $50,000. The Cavonnier Juvenile Stakes for 2-year-olds at six furlongs will be run Saturday, the Joseph T. Grace on turf will be run Sunday, and Luther Burbank on turf will be run a week from Saturday, Aug. 8.

Frank Mirahmadi will take over the announcing duties for Vic Stauffer, who is remaining at Del Mar to continue to book mounts for Joel Rosario, winner of the Hollywood Park jockey title. Stauffer called races here for 17 years.

Handicapping seminars will be conducted before the races, with Russell Baze, the world's winningest jockey, scheduled to appear Saturday.