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Patriotism, security obvious as San Joaquin Fair opens

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Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2002 10:00 pm

The purple logo of this year's San Joaquin Fair may salute the grape industry, but red, white and blue seem to be the true colors of the event.

American flags adorned many booths. One vendor prominently displayed white T-shirts with flags printed on them, and carnival attractions offered patriotic prizes to the winners.

The 10-day fair opened Wednesday.

Dozens of prize sheep grazed in the livestock barn where teen-agers carefully trimmed their fur in preparation for the judges.

Cotton candy stands dotted the family area, enticing children with the sweet, sugary smell.

An aura of suspense came from the direction of the horse racing track as a whistle sounded every 20 minutes, signaling the start of another race. Men and women pushed closer to the fence, holding their betting tickets and anxiously watching as one horse pulled ahead.

Meanwhile, security guards were in place to ensure that all attendants could safely watch the horses race around the track, admire the stunts of skateboarders and BMX bikers, and eat jumbo corn dogs fresh off the barbecue.

Similar to years past, two different security companies were hired to staff the fair, in addition to the Stockton police and fairgrounds security. Before entering the fairgrounds, visitors must empty their pockets and pass through metal detectors.

"We're patting people down from head to foot," said Paul Traylor, a supervisor with Guardco Security, a private company based in Merced.

Traylor's firm has 55 guards working the fair. He said the company has increased communication between the different security groups.

"On a daily basis, we have 75 security personnel and 15 uniformed officers. We have people from probation, from gang units and under cover," said Lea Isetti, marketing and promotions coordinator.

Those numbers are not increased from last year, Isetti said, but fairgoers and workers commented on the additional security.

Terri Eaton, a horse trainer from Bend, Ore., was annoyed that they now ask to see her driver's license every time she leaves and enters the fairgrounds, especially since she spends most of her time at the fair.

By the time Eaton got to the fair at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, she had already been up for four hours, exercising her 33 horses that will compete in the races.

Carnival ride operator Levi Cummins, who was been traveling with the carnival for four years, liked the security and the general atmosphere of this year's fair.

"It seems cleaner. There's more security, and that saves us from getting in fights," he said, as he waited for people to give him four ride tickets in exchange for riding the spinning Gravitron.

Cummins said he's gotten into a few scuffles over the years when security guards weren't present to assist him with rowdy fairgoers.

Attendance at the fair reached 200,000 people last year, said Fair Clerk Rachel Ambriz, and officials hope to see that many people this year, too.

While Wednesday was only the first day of the fair, plenty of people went to watch and bet on the horse races.

"I just pick numbers, and I go to see what the horses look like. My husband is the one who studies the horses," said Debra Gaebel, of Stockton.

Neither she nor her husband won the races, but they shrugged it off and moved on to the rest of the fair.

It includes such things as the exotic animal exhibit, the Kiddy Bumper Boats and stands selling Spider-Man balloons. The patriotic attendees could attempt to win a large red, white and blue bear by rolling a ball into a hole, and others could buy henna tattoos or learn about their family history.

In the theme of the fair, one whole building was dedicated to the wine industry.

"The fair is going toward the wine and grape industry; we're saluting them," Ambriz said.

While some attend the fair for the free wine tasting or watch the horse races, others, like Stockton resident Nikki Castaneda, bring their children to see the sights.

"We've come every year for the past five years," she said, as her 5-year-old daughter rode a pony.

And for others, the fair is an even bigger event.

Lodi High School student Christina Silva raises cows to show at the fair. She arrives at 6:30 every morning. Her brother even sleeps at the fair to check up on the family's animals.

Silva, 16, has been showing cows for five years and will use the experience in her future career as a veterinarian.

"Since I could show (cows), I've been coming to the fair," she said.

The fair runs through June 23. Gates open at noon, except for June 17 and 18, when there is no horse racing and gates open at 4 p.m. The carnival is open until 11:30 p.m. Admission for adults 13 and over is $8, children 6 to 12 cost $5 and those under 5 are admitted free.

For more information, call 466-5041 or visit the fair's Web site.

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