09/28/2003 11:00PM

Turning fairgoers into fans

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FRESNO, Calif. - The Big Fresno Fair will have a new look when its 11-day meeting opens Wednesday.

A new paddock has been constructed, which will allow fair patrons strolling the midway to see horses and allow easy access to the track. A new cantina has been built by the paddock.

"Anyone walking down the center of the fairgrounds will walk past the horses," director of racing operations Dan White said. "We tore out two buildings and opened up the whole south end. It will provide easy access to watch races."

White hopes that the presence of horses near the mainstream area of the fair will attract more people to the races.

The paddock project was encouraged by the California Authority of Racing Fairs as a way to get more people involved in racing.

The meeting will feature only one Thoroughbred stakes this year, the six-furlong Bull Dog on Oct. 12. The Bull Dog, limited to Cal-breds in the past, is an open race this year with a $40,000 purse and $10,000 in added-money for Cal-breds.

"We hope that we'll have a better field," White said.

In an effort to attract entries while both Bay Meadows in the North and Oak Tree in the South are running, the fair has a Thoroughbred trainers' contest with a pickup truck offered as first prize and a two-horse trailer as second prize. In addition, cash prizes of $2,500, $1,750, and $1,000 will be offered for the third- to fifth-place finishers.

A trainers' contest for emerging-breed runners offers prize money of $2,500, $1,500 and $1,000 to the top three trainers.

The main track has received positive reviews from early arrivals.

"We've added 800 tons of sand and moss to the track and have run CARF's rock picker over the track," White said. "The track is the best we've seen here in years."

At a glance: Fresno Fair

RACING SCHEDULE: 11 days; Oct. 1-13, dark Oct. 6-7

POST TIME: 1:30 p.m. Pacific (Monday-Thursday); 12:45 p.m. (Friday); 12:37 p.m. (Saturday-Sunday)

HIGHLIGHT: $50,000 Bull Dog Stakes, Oct. 12

FAIR ADMISSIONS: $7 adults, $5 seniors, $4 6-12; $4 for reserved seats, $5 for turf club

PARKING: $6

ADDRESS: 1121 S. Chance Ave., Fraesno, Calif.

PHONE: (559) 650-3247

INTERNET: www.fresnofair.com