09/09/2003 11:00PM

Will full barns lead to full fields?


POMONA, Calif. - Racing officials at the Los Angeles County Fair are expecting big things for the 2003 meet that begins Friday at Fairplex Park. A full barn area is one indication that field sizes will be large and the racing competitive. "If everybody who says they are coming, actually does, I think we'll have a great meet," racing secretary Dick Wheeler said.

An incentive program designed to attract stables from the northern California fair circuit already is working. Fairplex Park has supplemented transportation costs for shippers, thereby attracting horsemen from Sacramento who might otherwise have skipped the local meet.

"We have 40 temporary stalls we're putting up, and we'll probably have 50 or 60 horses that would not have been here" without the program, equine manager George Bradvica said. "It's all about field size; we think that's the most critical thing."

Horseplayers would agree. Small fields have diminished wagering opportunities in Southern California, and Fairplex is doing all it can to combat the problem. Beyond attracting out-of-town trainers such as Don Mills (20 stalls), Martin Kenney (16), and Jeff Bonde (14), the roster is filled with familiar trainers. Jeff Mullins (30), Bill Spawr (27), Ted West (24), Don Warren (21), and Mel Stute (20) will be active at the meet.

In another effort to boost field size, the number of Thoroughbred races planned for the 17-day meet has been reduced from 169 last season to 159 this year. To offset the decrease, the track hopes to fill a number of mixed-breed races, including a series of 350-yard mule races. Purses for Quarter Horses and Appaloosas have increased. Fairplex will attempt to run at least 37 mixed-breed races over the 17-day meet and card a total of 196 races.

Although the Los Angeles County Fair has never handled more than $104 million for the meet, the handle goal for 2003 is a lofty $110 million. Officials believe the ontrack presence of the Television Games Network will help drive handle. While TVG has aired Fairplex races in the past, the 2003 meet will be the first in which hosts will broadcast daily from a "live set" at the track. A small stage, adjacent to the paddock, was built for TVG.

With field sizes expected to increase, and TVG offering greater broadcast exposure, the meet begins with a sense of enthusiasm that recently has been missing. "There are a lot of positive vibes going on here - more than I've ever seen," Bradvica said.

The 2000 Fairplex meet was marred by the death of jockey J.C. Gonzalez; the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks interrupted the 2001 meet; and the 2002 meet was tarnished by raging wildfires in the foothills above the racetrack.

Bluesthestandard going back in training

Bluesthestandard will not race at the meet, but if he wins the Breeders' Cup Sprint, Fairplex Park gets credit for an assist. On Friday, Bluesthestandard is scheduled for his first workout since a ninth-place finish Aug. 17 in the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Handicap.

"He came out of the race sick; he had an excuse," said Ted West, who trains the graded stakes winner with his son, Ted. H. West. Despite the disappointing effort in the O'Brien, West said Bluesthestandard is still targeting the BC Sprint.

"If he runs good in the Ancient Title [Oct. 5 at Santa Anita], then we'll go in the Breeders' Cup," West said. Owner Jeff Sengara is prepared to pay the $90,000 supplement to make Bluesthestandard eligible for the race.

Bluesthestandard is scheduled for a three-furlong workout Friday. One of the reasons West is training Bluesthestandard at Fairplex is because of the track surface, which he calls the best he has ever seen.

Dominguez brings Dance of the Year

Trainer Caesar Dominguez has not won a Fairplex meet title since 1998 and admits he is not likely to lead the meet this year, either. He said he took 32 horses to Del Mar, and "at least half" got hurt.

"That's probably the first time Del Mar has put a big hit on my horses," he said. A rash of hind-end injuries hit the Dominguez stable, delaying the training progress of many of his 2-year-olds. "It's going to be slow here, and at Oak Tree," he said.

Dominguez does have a filly ready to make her debut in race 10 on Friday. Dance of the Year is a Golden Eagle Farm homebred daughter of Event of the Year, and Dominguez already calls her the "best I've gotten from Golden Eagle since I've been training for them."

Dominguez said Dance of the Year "acts like a runner," and he considers her a contender for the California Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 8.

Car accident sidelines Pedroza

Jockey Martin Pedroza, who was involved in a car accident on Monday while traveling to Del Mar's races, also took off his mounts on Wednesday's closing-day card at Del Mar because he was still shaken by the incident, according to his agent, Richie Silverstein.

Pedroza was traveling to Del Mar from the Los Angeles area on Monday when, while traveling on the freeway, the hood of his car popped open and smashed into the windshield, Silverstein said.

"It didn't shatter the window, but it cracked it," Silverstein said. "He was going 65 miles an hour in the diamond lane. He didn't crash, because he had two other people in the car, and they were able to put their heads out the window, wave to the other cars, and get off the road. He was shaken and trembling."

Silverstein said Pedroza would be back in action for Friday's opening-day program at Fairplex.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman

At a glance: Fairplex Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 17 days; racing daily, Sept. 12 - 28

POST TIME: 12:30 Pacific. 12 noon on Sept. 28

General admission to Fair: $14 weekends, $10 weekdays

Clubhouse admission: Free

Box seats: $3

Parking: $7

ADDRESS: 1101 McKinley Ave., Pomona, Calif. 91768

DIRECTIONS: Approximately 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, 10 miles west of Ontario International Airport. Two blocks north of Interstate 10.

PHONE: (909) 623-3111

INTERNET: www.fairplex.com, www.lacountyfair.com