08/06/2007 12:00AM

Slim pickings on fair's first two race cards


SAN MATEO, Calif. - The San Mateo County Fair, better known as the Bay Meadows Fair, opens Wednesday.

The fair could also be called "Bay Meadows light" since is serves primarily as a two-week prep for the fall Bay Meadows meet, which opens Aug. 22 after an 11-day fair run.

Filling races at the meet has traditionally been a delicate balance and appears to be even tougher this year. Only 52 runners were entered on opening day, when only one of the eight races drew the minimum of eight horses required to offer superfecta wagering.

Thursday's entry list was even lighter, with 50 runners, although two superfecta races will be offered.

"It's a combination of things," a frustrated racing secretary, Tom Doutrich, said after weekend draws for the first two days of racing. "We have 840 horses on the grounds and another 450 at Pleasanton, but we've seen about 200 horses go to Ferndale" for the Humboldt County Fair meet that opens Thursday.

Because it is a prequel to the Bay Meadows meeting, the Bay Meadows Fair doesn't have the sense of urgency other fairs have.

"People aren't here to race for two weeks," Doutrich said. "They don't think that way. At other fairs, they run a couple and are gone to the next meet."

Doutrich has tried to write a condition book that will fill in some gaps for categories that have been ignored during the fair circuit.

His opening day feature is a second-level $50,000 optional claiming sprint for fillies and mares. The only race for runners in that category during the fair season came in the Vacaville Handicap at Solano on July 14. The race drew seven entrants.

Doutrich unsuccessfully tried to fill an upper-level sprint race the first two days of the meeting. Santa Rosa had canceled its traditional sprint stakes, and there has been no race for upper-level sprinters in Northern California since the Sam Whiting at Pleasanton July 7.

While Doutrich has the advantage of having a turf course, he says he will offer only limited turf racing - and plans to write no turf sprints - during the fair meet to protect the course for the main meet.

Other fairs can use non-Thoroughbred races to help fill cards, but there will be no mule or Arabian races at Bay Meadows.