07/09/2006 11:00PM

Meet starts free of development talk

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The cloud of doubt hovering over the Solano County Fair in recent years has been lifted as the track begins its 2006 meeting Wednesday.

Plans for redevelopment of the fair property that would have eliminated horse racing have fallen apart. A proposal by the Mills Corporation to redevelop the 150-acre fair property has been rejected by both the fair board and the county board of supervisors.

"It was a cloud, not only over the racing program but also over the entire fair," said Joe Barkett, Solano County Fair general manager and director of racing. "It was definitely a perception problem."

Barkett is relieved to be thinking about the future of racing at the fair rather than simply being in survival mode.

"Hopefully, the word will get out that the Solano County Fair is here to stay and horse running is here to stay," Barkett said.

Eleven races are scheduled for weekdays and 12 on weekends at the fair, which runs through July 24. Its dark days are next Monday and Tuesday.

There are an average of nine entrants for Wednesday's eight Thoroughbred races and Thursday's nine Thoroughbred races.

Wednesday's feature is a $25,000 claimer at 1 1/16 miles which drew seven, including the hard-knocking Gold Ruckus, a stakes winner with $443,081 in earnings. Hall of Famer Russell Baze rides.

Two $40,000 starter allowance races are also scheduled, with six runners going one mile in the fourth race and seven going six furlongs in the eighth race.

Three stakes sprint races are scheduled during the meet, all for fillies and mares. The $50,000-guaranteed Vacaville Handicap is scheduled for July 15. The $40,000-added Fairfield Stakes for 3-year-old fillies will be run July 22. Both are scheduled for six furlongs. The $50,000-added Solano County Juvenile Filly Stakes for 2-year-old Cal-bred fillies will be run July 23 at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Barkett says the Solano County Fair is playing its part in a concerted effort by all the racing fairs to play a more prominent role in racing's future in the state.

"We're working closely with the other fairs to take the lead to set the future of racing in northern California," he said. "The future may be more on publicly owned facilities so we want to move forward on improving our facilities."

At a glance:

RACING SCHEDULE: 11 days; Wednesday through July 24 (dark July 17-18)

POST TIME: 12:45 p.m. Pacific

HIGHLIGHTS: $50,000 Vacaville Handicap, July 15; $40,000-added Fairfield Stakes, July 22; $50,000-added Solano County Juvenile Filly Stakes, July 23

ADMISSIONS: Fair admission, $8; box seats, $3.50 or $4

PARKING: $6

LOCATION: 900 Fairgrounds Dr., Vallejo, Calif.

PHONE: (707) 551-2000

INTERNET: www.scfair.com