07/09/2007 12:00AM

Joint effort a new plan for region


Northern California's racing landscape undergoes a significant change Wednesday with the start of the wine country race meet at the Solano County Fair at Vallejo. Previously, the Solano meet ran for two weeks, followed by the two-week Sonoma County meet in Santa Rosa. But this year Solano and Sonoma have combined their meets into one four-week meet, with the first week at Vallejo and the next three at Santa Rosa.

Solano will run five days of racing from Wednesday through Sunday, then Santa Rosa, which has a turf course, will race for three weeks, from July 18 to Aug. 6. The third week of racing will be run after the Sonoma County Fair closes.

Solano has explored the possibility of partnership with Sonoma for several years.

"There is the ability for fairs to join in combined meets," Solano County Fair's manager, Joe Barkett, said. "Sonoma has spent significant money upgrading its facility with its turf course and because of anticipated change at Bay Meadows.

"We felt it was a good time to combine. This will offer another week of racing on the turf. We're going to learn a lot of important things for next year."

Bay Meadows has received a one-year exemption for 2008 from having to install a synthetic track surface, but that could be the final year of racing there, because the land there will be developed, perhaps as soon as 2009.

Solano is already exploring the possibility of conducting harness racing, possibly as soon as 2008. Cal Expo in Sacramento currently conducts harness racing, but management there has indicated a desire to return to Thoroughbred racing.

During the fourth week of the meeting, there will be no fair to accompany the racing at Santa Rosa - a first on the fair circuit. Sonoma County Fair's general manager, Jim Moore, said he is hoping other area attractions, such as the local wineries, will draw people, and that they will visit the racetrack.

"We think Santa Rosa is a destination spot," Moore said.

Greg Brent, the racing secretary for both tracks, has written a condition book that encompasses all four weeks of the combined meeting.

"We look at it as a four-week package, although we have a lot of options with three weeks of turf racing," he said.

With only five days of racing at Solano, only one Thoroughbred stakes will be offered, the Vacaville, the only sprint stakes for fillies and mares on the fair circuit. It will be run Saturday.