06/18/2013 10:59AM

Pleasanton kicks off Northern California fair season

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When the 2013 Northern California fair racing season begins Thursday at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, all eyes will be on Russell Baze, who is poised to reach the 12,000-victory mark this summer.

Baze, who has more wins than any other North American rider in history, needs only 24 more victories to reach 12,000, and at his usual win rate should hit the milestone at either at the Alameda County Fair or the California State Fair in Sacramento.

While Baze has been a constant atop the rider standings in Northern California, there is one major change on the fair circuit this year – Santa Rosa has withdrawn from the California Association of Racing Fairs and will race as a separate entity. The other fair tracks – Alameda County Fair, California State Fair, Humboldt County Fair (Ferndale), San Joaquin County Fair (Stockton), and the Big Fresno Fair – remain under the CARF umbrella.

CARF organizes the racing at the fairs, performs administrative work, helps with track maintenance, and distributes purses. Santa Rosa, which has the only turf course at the fairs, will run its July 26-Aug. 11 racing program without that help.

Under CARF, fair business has been strong in recent years. Handle skyrocketed two years ago, and last year remained near that high level. One reason for that success, says CARF executive director Chris Korby, is that the fairs have been able to consolidate their resources.

“I think the pragmatic way we approached things allowed us to do things we couldn’t if the fairs ran as individual entities,” Korby said.

The fair tracks will run 18 stakes, with six each at Pleasanton and Santa Rosa. Thirteen of the stakes will be worth $50,000, four worth $75,000, and one $30,000.

For claiming horses, CARF racing secretary Tom Doutrich has put together a series of $8,000 starter allowance races at Fresno that each will offer a $30,000 purse. Any horse that has run for $8,000 in CARF fairs or at Fairplex is eligible for the series.

Korby said CARF redoubled its recruitment of horses from around the nation and will have between 15 percent and 20 percent more runners this summer. This is evident on Thursday’s opening day at Pleasanton, where 52 horses have been entered in the six Thoroughbred races, an average field size of 8.7 runners. Only one race will have fewer than eight horses. Pleasanton also will run two Quarter Horse races Thursday.

The meet will run Thursdays through Sundays for three weeks, through July 7.

The first two fair stakes will be run this weekend: Saturday’s $50,000 California Wine Stakes is for 3-year-old fillies going six furlongs, and Sunday’s Livermore Valley Wine Stakes is for 3-year-olds sprinting six furlongs.

Thirteen fillies, headed by comebacking stakes winner Marks Mine, were nominated to the California Wine Stakes, with 11 runners nominated to the Livermore Valley Wine Stakes, including stakes winners Distinctiv Passion, Know More, and Outside Nashville.

On Saturday, July 6, Pleasanton will host two Arabian races, the Grade 3, $30,000 H.H. Sheik Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup and the $25,000 H.H. Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies World Championship, which features an international cast of amateur women riders. There will be no betting on that race.

Pleasanton’s new CEO, Jerome Hoban, said the Arabian races could attract new fans.

“They will attract a new segment of fans and give us a global presence by hosting them,” he said.

Pleasanton will host its usual daily racing seminar, along with an array of contests and promotions. The Thoroughbred Owners of California will host an open forum at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Pleasanton simulcast facility on the fairgrounds.