06/28/2009 11:00PM

Longer meet possible sign of future


The Alameda County Fair will be under close scrutiny when it begins its three-week meeting Wednesday in Pleasanton, Calif.

It will be the track's longest meeting ever and only the second time the fair meet has lasted for three weeks. The Alameda County Fair is picking up one week from the Solano County Fair, which will run for one week instead of two.

In a sense, this year's meeting is a trial for what could be a much longer meeting next year. With Bay Meadows closed, Golden Gate raced for nearly nine months straight, from last September into this June, and officials at the Pleasanton track say they would like to pick up racing dates next year to form an Alameda County Fair-Golden Gate circuit.

"This could be a great opportunity for us," said Rick Pickering, the fair's CEO and director of racing. "We're still working with the California Horse Racing Board, Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers."

To become Northern California's second major racing center, Pleasanton would have to build a turf course. That's a possibility, Pickering said, but the bigger stumbling block is the CHRB's mandate that tracks running a meeting of more than three weeks must have a synthetic surface. The board made an exception for Bay Meadows before it closed, and Pickering is hoping it might do the same for the Alameda County Fair, which has a dirt track.

"The [CHRB] recently showed a willingness not to require synthetic surfaces, and that had been one hold-up for us with the cost of $10 to $12 million for a synthetic surface," he said. "We could add a turf course for $4 to $5 million.

"Golden Gate fully believes it needs a break. We're open, ready and willing, but we have to recognize the County of Alameda owns the property so we have to work with the board of supervisors and our directors."

Pleasanton will run five days a week, Wednesday-Sunday, through July 19. It will be the only Thoroughbred track running in California on Wednesdays, with Hollywood Park being closed that day.

The Pleasanton track offers auxiliary stabling while other tracks are running and has added 100 portable stalls for fair racing. The track's bridle path leading from the barn area to the track has been widened to more than double its previous width; there is a new on-off gap; and additional lighting, including emergency lighting to warn of loose horses, has been added.