08/04/2003 11:00PM

Future meets past in Ferndale


It's the tiniest of the racing fairs, with only a half-mile track, but the Humboldt County Fair, which opens Thursday in the Victorian city of Ferndale, has developed a cult status among racing fans.

It's a step back in time, with a tote board that shows only win odds, and slightly banked turns that make every race an adventure. The horses are cheap and slow for the most part, but the noise from the always-packed grandstand would make newcomers think they were at the Kentucky Derby or Breeders' Cup.

This year, the "Known Gamblers," a crew headed by former linemaker Roxy Roxborough that includes Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman, will make the trek to Ferndale.

The Known Gamblers, whose annual trips in past years have included the Kentucky Derby and Melbourne Cup, will be the featured guests at an Aug. 16 handicapping seminar. They will also be on hand the next day, when the 1 5/8-mile Humboldt County Marathon is run. The horses pass the finish line four times during the running of the Marathon.

Ferndale first conducted racing in 1896. The track faced a crisis in the 1990's when state regulations requiring inner safety rails threatened live racing. A group of local residents formed the Ferndale Jockey Club with the mission of "live racing at the fair forever." The fair's manager, Stuart Titus, was able to raise funds for a safety rail, and the group has dedicated itself since to fund-raising and a variety of projects each year.

Titus is excited by the advent of account wagering, which has helped spur mutuel increases at every fair this year. Because it runs simultaneously with the Bay Meadows Fair, Ferndale has not generally been included in the wagering package sent to other states by California. Only one northern California fair is included in the package.

Account wagering, Titus said, "opens the door for us to get a chance to get our program to a larger audience."

The fair will give away Seabiscuit bobblehead dolls on opening day and Black Ruby bobbleheads closing day, when Black Ruby will try to defend her crown in the Cream City Mule Handicap at 660 yards in what is now the lone mule race offered around a turn.

Pick six spreading

With five Santa Rosa-area men at the Sonoma County Fair hitting the record-setting Del Mar pick six on Friday, there has been renewed interest in the bet.

The northern California fair circuit has incorporated the pick six wager into its wagering menu this year for the first time.

"At our regular monthly meetings with the racing fairs, we put forth strongly that fairs should add the pick six," said Chris Korby, the executive director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs. "We thought it was important to have a consistent wagering format year-round.

"Prior to this, it was up to the individual fairs. It's confusing when it changes from fair to fair. You can't do it at some fairs and not others."

As fans become used to the pick six at the fairs, CARF officials would like to explore the possibility of carrying over the pick six from one fair to the next or possibly having a fair such as Santa Rosa offer a guaranteed pick six pool to stimulate more interest.

* Despite a 23 percent decrease in attendance, the Solano County Fair showed a 3 percent increase in ontrack handle, with $2,869,927 wagered during the 11-day meet. All-sources handle grew 12 percent to $25,036,984. In addition, the account wagering handle for Solano was $2,182,913.