10/04/2004 12:00AM

Meet's showcase race gets makeover


FRESNO, Calif. - The Big Fresno Fair opens Wednesday with a new look to its stakes calendar.

The main stakes race for older horses, the Bull Dog, has been changed from a six-furlong sprint to a one-mile race. The Bull Dog, the closing-day feature on Oct. 17, will have the same purse as last year, $50,000.

"That was something Fair management decided," racing secretary Zach Soto said, referring to the distance change. "The race has been getting some light fields the past couple years, so the Fair put it at a mile. With a $50,000 purse, some should come out and play."

The Bull Dog drew only four horses two years ago and six last year.

"We're trying something different for our biggest race," director of racing Dan White said. "With $50,000, we want to have a full field. We thought with the change to a mile we might attract a few more runners, and there seems to be a lot of interest thus far."

Also on the schedule is the $30,000 Harvest Festival on Oct. 10, a six-furlong race for 2-year-olds.

Two mule stakes and two Arabians stakes are also scheduled.

With more than 400 horses on the grounds, Soto was happy with the way early entries were going.

Horses have been working over the track since Sept. 17, and Soto said that horsemen are satisfied with the condition of the track.

White said that John Alkire, the fair's new chief executive officer, is pushing to make things better for horsemen.

"We've added over 800 tons of sand to the track and are working with machines to pick up rocks daily," White said.

"We've addressed horsemen's concerns. We've added misters and shade for the horses in the paddocks, and improved drainage in the barn area. We are making an effort to make horsemen feel more welcome than ever here.

"We'll have awards for jockeys, trainers, and grooms, including some special awards for trainers, thanking them for their support."

Racing will continue from Wednesday through Oct. 17 with next Tuesday the lone dark day.

At a glance:

RACING SCHEDULE: 11 days - Oct. 6-17. Dark on Oct. 12

POST TIME: 1:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday; 12:45 p.m. Friday; 12:37 Saturday, Sunday.

HIGHLIGHTS: Oct. 10 $30,000 Harvest Festival; Oct. 17 $50,000 Bull Dog

ADMISSIONS: Free with admission to fair ($8 adults, $7 seniors, $5 6-12); Clubhouse $5; reserved seating $4; box seat $5

PARKING: $5 general; $6 preferred

LOCATION: 1121 S. Chance Ave., Fresno, CA.

PHONE: (559) 650-3247

INTERNET: www.fresnofair.com