07/24/2013 12:15PM

Santa Rosa opens first meet as an independent


The horse racing industry will be closely eyeing the 13-day Sonoma County Fair that begins in Santa Rosa on Friday and runs through Aug. 11.

For the first time, the meeting will be conducted as an individual entity rather than under the auspices of the California Authority of Racing Fairs like the rest of the Northern California fairs.

CARF organizes racing at the fairs, performs administrative work, helps with track maintenance, and distributes purses. Santa Rosa fair manager Tawny Tesconi said the track can save money by doing these things in house.

“Everything has gone really well,” she said. “Our patrons won’t even know there’s a difference.”

Santa Rosa has scheduled six stakes, each worth $50,000-added, with one on each Saturday and Sunday of the meeting. The stakes schedule kicks off with the Wine Country Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the turf Saturday and Luther Burbank for fillies and mares on the turf Sunday.

Tesconi says the track is being maintained with new equipment, and that Golden Gate Fields has offered support and expertise with the turf course – the only one on the fair circuit.

Director of racing Richard Lewis, who has a long career in racing including being a trainer, said he and the horsemen were happy with the condition of the dirt main track leading up to the meet.

“I was really pleased with how horses were going over the track and moving nicely on it,” he said. “The grass feels good when we’ve walked on the turf course.”

According to Lewis, all 500 stalls in the barn area have been assigned, and more than two dozen horses worked on the track Monday, a higher total than any day last year.

“I like to think that’s a good sign,” said racing secretary Bob Moreno, who carded one mule race and seven Thoroughbred races for Friday’s opening day.

Three races Friday are scheduled for turf: an allowance race, a $25,000 maiden claimer, and $12,500 claiming race.

“I’ve been the racing secretary at Stockton and Pleasanton, and it’s a luxury to have a turf course like this one,” he said, noting that many horses have been waiting since the Golden Gate Fields meet ended to get to run on the turf again.

For the first time, Santa Rosa is offering full-service dining at tables trackside as well as group dining with a view of the paddock.