06/21/2011 4:59PM

Pleasanton Fair begins 13-day meet Thursday

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After a short but successful one-week run at Stockton for the San Joaquin Fair, racing returns to the San Francisco Bay Area on Thursday for the 13-day Alameda County Fair meeting at Pleasanton.

With free fair admission helping to fill the grandstand, Stockton handled more than $1 million per day, showing more than a 40 percent increase for the first two days of the meet, according to Larry Swartzlander, the California Authority of Racing Fairs director of racing.

As with Stockton and Golden Gate Fields, Pleasanton will run four-day weeks, with a fifth day on the Monday of July 4.

“As much as the fact that Hollywood Park is running four-day weeks, this is a decision based on the horse population in California as a whole,” said Alameda County Fair CEO Rick Pickering.

Like many fair managers, Pickering recognizes the importance of racing to a fair’s success, but he also recognizes the importance of a strong racing product and is willing to cut back to provide stronger cards.

Stockton cards averaged better than seven runners per race, and its lone stakes included three previous stakes winners.

Racing secretary Tom Doutrich said he was hopeful for even higher numbers at Pleasanton with a larger local horse population both at the fairgrounds and Golden Gate Fields.

The meet’s first of six stakes events, Saturday’s Alameda County Fillies and Mares Handicap, drew 13 nominations.

Pickering hopes the 99th Alameda County Fair’s slogan of “Real dirt, real racing” becomes a selling point for trainers hoping for form reversals after nine months of racing on Golden Gate Fields’s synthetic Tapeta surface, and he’s also hopeful that aesthetic improvements will make horse racing more popular and understandable for casual fans.

“We’re becoming Alameda County’s largest outdoors classroom,” he said. “We’ve tied many of our exhibits to science, tech, engineering, and math.”

Having gone to the Kentucky Horse Museum during a visit to Churchill Downs earlier this year, Pickering is taking the first steps to create a fan-friendly informative atmosphere in the grandstand. Various displays ranging from jockey silks to information on betting will be available this year, but Pickering envisions expanded displays in the future to show the care and grooming of racehorses to the types of equipment used by horses and riders as well as examples of feed used by trainers.

The fair is adding a stakes race to its schedule this year, the Livermore Valley Wine Country Stakes, a $50,000 six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds on July 1.

“Fairs exist to showcase the agricultural accomplishments and achievements of their area, and the Livermore Valley is the oldest wine region in the state,” said Pickering, who hopes that promoting the wine industry could lead to future stakes sponsorships.

Pleasanton will also be the site of the first of five special Arabian races, which will also be held at Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Fairplex, and Fresno. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan from Abu Dhabi has donated $2,000 to be added to the regular purses on Arabian races to promote the sport. The Wathba Stud Farms race will be on Saturday.

Pleasanton will continue its numerous promotions to attract fans with the popular win-place-show contests were fans can win as much as $149. There will also be the daily putting contest, a special hat contest on Saturday and “Derby Dog” races the second and third Saturdays. There is a T-shirt giveaway on opening day.

The popular Turfside Terrace with upscale dining has already been sold out for a number of days.

Seminars will be held daily at 11:45 a.m. in the fair food court area in front of the grandstand featuring track announcer Frank Mirahmadi and local handicapper Dennis Miller. Saturday’s seminar will be a Thoroughbred Owners of California conformation clinic with trainer Jeff Bonde in the paddock.
Stockton leaders
Russell Baze, the world’s winningest rider, and Abel Cedillo tied for Stockton jockey honors, each winning five races. Baze had 5 wins, 2 seconds, and 4 thirds from 13 mounts. Cedillo had 5 wins, 1 second, and 3 thirds from 16 mounts.

Trainers Steve Sherman, Billy Morey, Andy Mathis and O.J. Jauregui each had two wins. Bud Klokstad won with his lone starter, Special Holiday, in the Pink Ribbon Stakes.

◗ Bar JF Hot Ticket won her seventh straight race Sunday at Stockton, where she is undefeated. The 8-year-old mule, who has won 17 of 19 starts with 2 seconds the past two years, topped the $200,000 mark in earnings with her 43rd victory in 51 starts. She has failed to hit the board only once in her career.