09/18/2013 1:19PM

Stockton: San Joaquin County Fair meet opens with big fields

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Although it will host one stakes race, the San Joaquin County Fair meet in Stockton, Calif., is a meet that relies upon lower-level horses. The connections of those claiming horses came through on Friday’s opening-day card, with 53 horses entered for the six Thoroughbred races.

In addition to Thoroughbreds, Stockton also cards races for Quarter Horses, mules, and Arabians. The meet runs Fridays through Sundays for two weeks. With six days of racing, Stockton is running two fewer cards than last year.

The hope, says racing secretary Tom Doutrich, is that the realistic approach to attracting horses will result in big fields and attract more betting than shorter fields of higher-level horses.

Helping to attract horses are purses for runners in the lower claiming divisions that are higher than at Golden Gate Fields. Adding personal incentives for trainers, a $500 bonus is offered to any trainer who saddles five horses during the meet and $1,000 to any trainer who saddles 10.

“We’ll be doing that here in Stockton and again at Fresno in two weeks,” Doutrich said. “It proved popular this summer at Sacramento and helped us in filling races.

“We have some trainers who travel from fair to fair, some who base at Pleasanton, and some who base at Golden Gate Fields. This provides a little extra incentive to enter.”

The lone stakes is the $50,000-added Harvest Stakes, a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares on Saturday.

Juan Hernandez, who won the Sonoma County Fair riding title at Santa Rosa and finished second to Russell Baze during the Golden Gate Fields summer meet, will ride through the Stockton meeting.

The San Joaquin County Fair was conducted earlier, so unlike at most of the other fair meets, racing will be a stand-alone event at Stockton. The free admission and $5 parking – down from $10 last year – is part of the effort to attract more fans, fair CEO Janet Covello said.

“We’re doing the best we can to make the horsemen happy and get the public out and involved in fun things,” said Covello.

Covello added that there will be daily drawings for betting vouchers as well as other giveaways. In addition, there will be a hat contest on Saturday and small-dog racing both Sundays of the meet.