07/29/2007 11:00PM

Racing now lone attraction after fair closes


SANTA ROSA, Calif. - One of the most important weeks in Northern California racing begins Wednesday at the Sonoma County Fair.

Racing resumes for an unprecedented third week, and will run without the attractions of the fair itself. The Sonoma County Fair closed Monday.

With the prospect of Bay Meadows closing perhaps as early as 2009, the Sonoma County Fair is a prime venue to assume some of the open dates, and racing for a week without a fair will be sort of an early dry run.

Sonoma County Fair director of racing Jim Moore, acting as fair manager, cautions against reading too much into numbers this week, saying drawing fans to what has always been a dark week "will take a while to develop."

Moore said he believes success will come when the fair can be sold as a destination location, much as Del Mar and Saratoga, with plenty of activities offered in addition to racing.

"Given more time, we'll try to involve more of the community, make this more wine country racing, try to involve more wineries in the area," he said.

The third week of racing here is the result of a partnership with the Solano County Fair, which ran only one week (five days) instead of the usual two weeks. The Sonoma County Fair picked up the extra week.

Because of the schedule change, the Sonoma County Fair began a week earlier than usual, and Moore said that threw some people off and contributed to a decline in first-week attendance and handle.

Two stakes this weekend

Moore said the fair would provide free parking and free admission to the grounds for this week, although seating will cost $3 or $5 in reserved and box areas. The parking will be in the fair's "A" lot on Brookwood Avenue.

Concession stands will be open at the track as will a permanent restaurant facility located next to the track.

Entertainment and daily racing seminars, which begin at 11:30 a.m. Pacific each day - except 1 p.m. on Friday - will be held at the Park Stage adjacent to the racetrack.

The track will hold its signature race, the 1 1/16-mile Joseph Grace, on the turf Saturday, and the Cavonnier Juvenile Stakes on Sunday. Cavonnier, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, was bred and lives in retirement less than a half-hour from the track and will parade before the grandstand on Sunday.

The Grace had its purse cut in half from $100,000 to $50,000 this year because of overpayments to horsemen last year and a raise in overnight purses this year.

Mule sets world record

The best mules in the world ran Saturday, resulting in a world record for 400 yards.

Bar JF Hot Ticket scored a 2 1/4-length victory over Sarah Nelson, breaking the world record of 22.618 seconds with a 22.397 clocking. Smoking Joe, who earlier in the meet set a track record at 400 yards, finished third.

Bar JF Ticket is a 4-year-old filly, whose accomplishment would be similar to a 3-year-old Thoroughbred beating older in a Grade 1 stakes.

It was Bar JF Ticket's seventh straight victory.

"This was a tough race," trainer Ray Thomas said. "I always thought she was good, but I didn't know she was this good."

Sandytiki takes Arabian stakes

Arabian and Quarter Horse runners were in the spotlight over the weekend. Sandytiki handed Dunoire the first loss of her career in the six-furlong Santa Rosa Arabian Stakes. Mariposa Creek and Ajewelindisguise ran one-two for trainer Peggy Hanford in the 870-yard Santa Rosa Marathon for mixed breeds.

Trainer Candy Coffee was not surprised by Sandytiki's four-length victory.

"None of my others are as nice as her," Coffee said. "She worked a very fast half-mile choked down before this. She's by Burning Sand, who was a great runner, and his runners seem to have a lot of common sense.

"I think, as with all the emerging breeds, the breeding is getting better now."

Sandytiki sat back early and was unchallenged through the stretch. The track played quite well to closer types Saturday, which may have helped as well.

Mariposa Creek won his first 870-yard race in his first start of the year at Solano, and this past weekend left the two Thoroughbreds in the field - one ridden by Russell Baze - in the dust.