06/22/2008 11:00PM

Things look much better than just fair


When Rick Pickering, CEO of the Alameda County Fair, talks about the racing season that opens Wednesday in Pleasanton, Calif., he makes two points: rich history, bright future.

The Alameda County Fair starts the summer California fair season with a 10-race card and an 11-day meeting that runs through July 6. Racing has been conducted there for 150 years, making it the oldest one-mile track in the country. Pleasanton may soon become first among equals with its fair partners, because it is bidding to acquire additional racing dates for next year after the expected shutdown of Bay Meadows this year.

"I'm bullish on our future," Pickering said. "The property doesn't have any debt, and there's not the finances of real estate that the private associations have." The fair is operated by the county fair board and is on county-owned land.

While the long-term future appears bright, Pickering is also excited about the upcoming 11 days of racing, which attract both fairgoers and established racing fans.

"We try to develop a family atmosphere, because this is where many people get their first experience with racing," Pickering said. "We're hoping for a great meet."

Although not as many horses have come to Pleasanton from Arizona as in past years, the barn area is full with over 600 horses, including a number that had stabled regularly at Bay Meadows in the past.

The track will run five Thoroughbred stakes, each worth $50,000 plus additional purse money for California-breds.

The Alamedan Handicap, usually the meet's closing-day feature, will be held this Saturday. The Everett Nevin will be run as a route for 3-year-olds on Sunday instead a sprint for 2-year-olds, as in the past.

The fair will conduct stakes the final three days of the meet, with the six-furlong Sam Whiting on July 4, the Alameda Filly and Mare Handicap on July 5, and the Juan Gonzalez for 2-year-old fillies July 6.

The California Horse Racing Board will hold its monthly meeting at Pleasanton on Friday, with two items of particular interest to the fairs - a proposed 1 percent increase in takeout for the fairs and a look at planning for racing in upcoming years, including dates, stabling and track improvements.

Fans attending the races Wednesday will receive free T-shirts to commemorate the track's 150th year of existence. The Thoroughbred Owners of California will conduct a seminar for the first time at the fair.