09/18/2012 1:03PM

Stockton opens late-season meeting at San Joaquin County Fair

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The San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton gave the 2011 Northern California fair season quite a kick start last year when it attracted more betting in four days than it had during a five-day meet the previous year. Fair officials hope the Stockton meet will give the fair season a late boost in its new slot as the year’s second-to-last fair meet.

Stockton begins a two-week, eight-day run Thursday. Last year, the Stockton meet ran for one week in June. After the Stockton meet ends Sept. 30, the Big Fresno Fair will end the fair season with a meet that runs from Oct. 4-14.

With purses at Stockton up 6 percent over last year, racing secretary Tom Doutrich is hopeful that trainers will ship horses from the stabling facilities at Pleasanton and Golden Gate Fields, which will not resume racing for one month. Thursday’s opening-day card includes six Thoroughbred races with an average of eight entrants, and one Quarter Horse race with seven entries.

Thursday’s card comprises all claiming races. The first stakes of the meet, Saturday’s $50,000-added Harvest Stakes, has attracted 17 nominees. Among the nominees for the six-furlong race for fillies and mares is the defending champ, Special Holiday, who won the race when it was called the Pink Ribbon last year. Other stakes winners nominated are Lady of Fifty, Top Debutante, Paris in April, and Coup de Coeur. They are joined on the list by Advance Ticket, Bleach Blonde, Sister Kate, English Royal, Hennessy River, and Greatest Escape.

Larry Swartzlander, the chief operating officer of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, is pleased that last year’s experiment of offering free admission is being continued. He credits the policy for a big increase in attendance last year over 2010.

“Free admission is a big benefit,” Swartzlander said. “There’s a new marketing director and plan that has the place energized. There are new murals and paintings throughout the grounds, many new local businesses participating, and a new energy at the fairgrounds.

Kate Post, the fair’s new director of marketing, development, and sponsorships, has organized promotions for the four weekend days of the meet: Pink Ribbon Day for the American Cancer Society on Sept. 22; a derby hat competition on Sept. 29; “Derby Dog Dashes” – races for small dogs – on both Sundays; and a post-race concert featuring Ezequiel Pena on Sept. 30, closing day.