08/23/2004 12:00AM

State Fair cards Friday doubleheader


SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks would probably enjoy going to the California State Fair on Friday.

Banks is famous for saying, "Let's play two" when he arrived at the ballpark.

The State Fair, which opens Wednesday, will offer racing fans a doubleheader Friday with a nine-race afternoon card beginning at 1 p.m. and an eight-race evening card beginning at 6 p.m.

Director of racing Dave Elliott has never been accused of failure to think outside the box, and he knows Friday's experimental doubleheader could be a big flop.

"We, Cal Expo, are the ones who can be a loser in this, but we want to try," Elliott said.

With a doubleheader Friday, there will be no live racing Monday, although simulcasts from Del Mar, Saratoga, and other tracks will be available.

"We want to bring nighttime Thoroughbred racing to a nighttime Sacramento crowd," said Elliott, pointing to the night posts for harness racing at the Cal Expo track.

"Hopefully, some of the horses that run Friday instead of Monday will come back the second week, and this will give everybody at the track a two-day breather on Monday and Tuesday."

Racing officials have worked six-day weeks the past five weeks, and six of the past seven.

Nighttime races were hard to fill at Bay Meadows when it ran its Friday's Alive programs in recent years, and Elliott hopes to allay the reluctance of horsemen with several new provisions.

"We are going to give $50 per runner to each trainer that enters, and we will give all grooms food vouchers," Elliott said.

He hopes the 6 p.m. first post will help to attract more runners because the final race will be run at 9:05 p.m., eliminating one of the key concerns of trainers about how late the Bay Meadows Friday night cards run. The 6 p.m. first post will also allow for three races to run concurrently with live racing at Del Mar.

Elliott hopes that field sizes will be good. "We're expecting an influx from Ferndale and may get some from Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows," he said.

The State Fair is providing free shipping from Golden Gate and Bay Meadows for any horse that runs.

At a glance:
California State Fair

RACING SCHEDULE: 11 days - Aug. 25-Sept. 6; dark Aug. 30-31.

POST TIME: 1 p.m. daily, 1 and 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 27; 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 3.

HIGHLIGHTS: Aug. 28 $60,000 Governor's Handicap; Aug. 29 $50,000-added Earlene McCabe Derby.

ADMISSIONS: $10 to fair, free admission to track; special $11 fair admission with box seat

PARKING: $7 general

LOCATION: 1600 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento, CA

PHONE: (916) 263-3000

INTERNET: www.bigfun.org