08/01/2003 11:00PM

Lack of stakes horses a problem


SANTA ROSA, Calif. - The Sonoma County Fair's closing day is Monday, and racing is going out with a whimper instead of a bang.

An otherwise successful two-week meeting has been plagued by the absence of nominations for stakes races, and Monday's closing-day feature, the six-furlong Elie Destruel Stakes for fillies and mares, was canceled because of a lack of entries.

The Ernest Finley, the meet's sprint stakes for males, was postponed from the opening Saturday to this past Thursday and went with five runners only because of the entry of a low-level claimer, Jim's Relaunch. Friday's James Lyttle, a 1 1/16-mile stakes for 3-year-olds, also had five runners and went only because of the presence of another low-level claimer, Day Flyer.

Both Jim's Relaunch and Day Flyer finished last.

Six were nominated to the Destruel - including Lacie Girl, northern California's top female sprinter - but only four entered the race. With seven victories and a nose defeat at the distance, Lacie Girl likely discouraged much of the possible competition.

Special appearance

Owner-breeder Barbara Walter and the 1996 Kentucky Derby runner-up, Cavonnier, were honored before Sunday's renamed Cavonnier Juvenile Stakes for 2-year-olds. Walter and her late husband, Robert, have one of the top breeding operations in northern California, less than a half-hour from the Santa Rosa track.

Cavonnier won his maiden race at Santa Rosa as a 2-year-old. A stablemate, Argonnier, won the Redwood Empire Stakes, the former name of the Cavonnier, at that same meeting.

"Bob Walter deserves this home-track honor," Jim Moore, the fair's manager, said. "He contributed so much to Sonoma County and to the sport of horse racing."

Hot races among humans

Russell Baze - who else? - led Chance Rollins by four wins in the jockey standings going into the final weekend. The total did not include his victory aboard Key to the Gold in Saturday's California Appaloosa Derby.

The race for leading trainer was wide-open, with John F. Martin leading with six victories, one more than Armando Lage. Art Sherman, Cliff DeLima, and Jerry Hollendorfer each had four wins, and Lloyd Mason and William E. Morey had three.