07/11/2005 12:00AM

High-quality sprint feature for opening day


VALLEJO, Calif. - Greg Brent, the Solano County Fair racing secretary, is hopeful that the momentum created this spring will continue as the northern California fair season moves to its third stop of the summer.

"Our barns may be [underpopulated] from what we had in the past," he said. "Generally, horses go from Stockton to Vallejo, but this year many trainers are going from fair to fair, and we've had lots of stall applications."

Field size has turned around a bit this spring, starting with the Golden Gate Fields meeting.

Brent's biggest concern is that Pleasanton's condition book more closely resembled those of Stockton and Solano than in the past. But he points to the fact that better horses responded to extra races at Pleasanton.

That response has led to a strong opening day feature at Solano, a $50,000 optional claimer for sprinters. It fits nicely for trainers who might be interested in getting a race into their horses before the six-furlong Ernest Finley at Santa Rosa on July 30.

"There was a feeling we needed to offer it," Brent said. He pointed out that, for trainers who didn't run a horse in last weekend's Whiting for sprinters at Pleasanton and are considering the Finley, "the timing works to run a race like this."

The race drew a field of six, including recent winners McManus and Funny Flyer. Stakes-winning Trapper, making his second start following a 17-month layoff, and Exceeding, who hasn't run in 21 months, are also in the field. Record Smashed and recently claimed The Griff round out the field.

McManus seems the one to beat with his stalking style and current form. His stablemate, Exceeding, has put together 10 solid works for his comeback without missing a single drill.

In his comeback, Trapper hooked a very tough field, including Bonfante, who has now won two straight stakes. Trapper has worked well since then and meets easier here. Trapper and McManus are the two runners entered for tags in the field.

Solano offers a special opening-day treat for fans in addition to the competitive feature: free parking and free admission. The same offer will be in effect Thursday and on the race meet's closing Monday, when the fair itself is not open.

The daily win-place-show promotion in which fans ontrack sign up for their pick in a specified race will be held again. In cooperation with Stockton and Pleasanton, Solano included discounted parking coupons in racing programs at those tracks, a move that paid dividends last year, according to the fair's deputy general manager, Pat Skelton.

Skelton said the questions surrounding the track's future are still in the discussion stage. Development plans have been created, and public hearings are taking place. The county board of supervisors and the fair board may begin final discussions about the track's status in December.

At a glance:

RACING SCHEDULE: 11 days; Wednesday through July 25; dark July 18-19)

POST TIME: 12:15 p.m. Pacific

HIGHLIGHTS: $50,000 Vacaville Handicap, July 16; $40,000 Fairfield Stakes, July 23; $50,000 Solano County Juvenile Filly Stakes, July 24

ADMISSIONS: $8 (racing included in fair admission), seniors (60+), $4; children (6-12), $4

PARKING: General, $6

LOCATION: 900 Fairgrounds Dr., Vallejo, Calif.

PHONE: (707) 551-2000

INTERNET: www.scfair.com