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Before the race, there's the issue of politics, say fair officials

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Posted: Friday, February 19, 2010 12:00 am

In mid-June, the fresh smell of green grass and horses will greet visitors to the track during the San Joaquin Fair in Stockton. Scores of people will wager their hard-earned money, which helps subsidize jugglers, clowns and big-time recording artists elsewhere on the Stockton fairgrounds.

The horses have been racing in June for 20 years in Stockton. Before that, they raced for 100 years in August, when the fair was held during that month.

But times are tight at the fair this year. Horse racing in many communities has declined because of the economy and competition from Indian casinos, said Chris Korby, executive director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs.

Stockton fair officials, excited about the fair's 150th anniversary this year, also say they're suffering because state authorities reduced their racing dates from nine to five. That puts a serious dent into the fair's revenue and attractions with other parts of the fair, San Joaquin Fair CEO Debbie Cook said.

The fair's board of directors, chaired by Victoria Salazar of Woodbridge, recently adopted a $3 million budget that calls for about $400,000 less spending for the fair than in 2009, a $243,000 loss in horse racing revenue and a $249,000 reduction in expenses at the track.

The budget reduction will come despite the fair being reimbursed an estimated $200,000 by other Northern California fairs to help compensate for the revenue the Stockton fair is losing by going down to five days of racing, Cook said.

For years, horse racing has been offered at the California State Fair, the fair in Stockton and six county fairs — in Fresno, Pleasanton, Vallejo, Santa Rosa, Ferndale Sonoma and Los Angeles. Racing is also held at separate race tracks — Golden Gate Fields in Albany, Del Mar, Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Los Alamitos and Santa Anita in Arcadia.

This year, though, Stockton has had its dates reduced and the Solano County Fair in Vallejo is losing racing altogether.

San Joaquin County's interests aren't necessarily the same as others. The Stockton fair is competing for dates against the interests of:

  • Horse owners, breeders, trainers and racers.
  • Groups representing thoroughbred horses, quarter horses and harness racing.
  • The participating county fairs in Northern California, the California State Fair and Golden Gate Fields in Albany.

The San Joaquin Fair's board was forced into an unpleasant decision — arm-twisting if you will — by the California Authority of Racing Fairs, Cook said. The authority, known in horse circles as CARF, is a group of horse and fair interests that recommends a calendar for all Northern California fairs that offer horse racing to the official governing body, the California Horse Racing Board.

"We were faced with either get five days of racing or no days of racing," Cook said.

"No, they were not told that," Korby said. "San Joaquin County told us that they were in a rebuilding phase and to run a one-week (five-day) fair in 2010."

CARF board members determined that it wouldn't make sense to run a week of racing at a fair during times when there was no fair, Korby said. Last year, Stockton had racing on Thursday through Sunday the week before the San Joaquin Fair, and then the following Wednesday through Friday — which happened to be the days the fair was in operation.

The two organizations had a more difficult time scheduling the calendars for Northern California this year because the California State Fair moved its dates from August to July. That's because school begins in mid-August these days, and the State Fair was losing attendance from children and teens on weekdays.

So some county fairs had to rearrange their schedules to avoid a conflict with the State Fair.

Who decides the fair calendar?

The California Horse Racing Board consists of nine people appointed by the governor. They range from the owner of Harris Ranch in the central San Joaquin Valley to Hollywood celebrities like Bo Derek.

However, the board waits each year until another organization, the California Authority of Racing Fairs, works out a calendar among its members, said Mike Marten, a spokesman for the horse racing board.

Meetings that included representatives from the California Authority of Racing Fairs, the California State Fair, Golden Gate Fields, participating fairs and different horse groups were held to go over the racing calendar before coming to the California Horse Racing Board, Marten said. They looked at horse inventory, race track condition and the county fair schedules while developing where horses would run and when, he added.

It was in the fall when the California Authority of Racing Fairs voted to recommend reducing the San Joaquin Fair's racing days to five. The California Horse Racing Board, which makes the final decision, agreed on the schedule at its Jan. 15 meeting.

"The racing industry is looking at what makes sense for the future," Korby said. "Fairs are going to be looked at in that context — what kind of support from the community? On Friday night and Saturday, is the grandstand full?"

And since the revenue from racing helps subsidize other fair operations, Korby said that San Joaquin and other county fairs need to do their part.

"The fairs need to reinvest in the horse racing industry — they need to keep facilities in good order, market it well, advertise, make people aware that they're there," Korby said.

Now Cook is busy lining up concessions and live entertainment for the fair. Because the fair dates were set at least a couple of months later than most years, the question in Cook's mind is if she will be able to line up entertainment of the quality of the 2009 schedule, which included Bret Michaels, the Charlie Daniels Band, Williams & Rae, Raven Symone, the Neville Brothers and Los Tucanes de Tijuana.

So will Stockton get a chance to regain its nine-day racing schedule in future years to improve the fair overall if the attendance is good this year?

"That's too deep for me into the crystal ball," Korby said.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

Who's on the California Horse Racing Board?

The board of directors is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the California State Senate.

Keith Brackpool, chairman. Lives in Los Angeles and is co-founder of Cadiz, Inc., a publicly held land and water resource management company that owns about 45,000 acres in eastern San Bernardino County. Owns Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach, the largest private tennis complex in Southern California. Has owned and bred race horses for more than 20 years in Europe and the United States.

David Israel, vice chairman. Lives in Los Angeles and serves on Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission. Served three years on the board of directors of the California Governor's and First Lady's Conference on Women. Wrote and produced several TV series and movies, including "Midnight Caller," "The Untouchables," "Tremors," "Turks," "Fast Copy," "Crimes of the Century," "Bay City Blues," "Jake Lassiter: Justice on the Bayou," "The Port Chicago Mutiny," "Pandora's Clock," "House of Frankenstein," "Y2K" and "Monday Night Football." Served as director of Office of the President for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee in 1984 under Peter Ueberroth. Previously a reporter and syndicated columnist for the Chicago Daily News, Washington Star, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Herald Examiner. As a sports columnist, he often wrote about horse racing, and covered the Triple Crown campaigns of Seattle Slew and Affirmed.

John C. Harris. Lives along Kings River east of Fresno. Chairman and CEO of Harris Farms, a diversified agricultural, beef and hospitality company near Coalinga. Multiple Breeders' Cup Classic-winner Tiznow was raised at Harris Farms. Recent stakes winners bred and raced by Harris Farms include Lucky J.H., High Standards, John Scott and Alphabet Kisses. A director of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association in 1974 and served as the organization's legislative chairman for 20 years. Also served on the boards of the Breeders' Cup, Thoroughbred Owners of California, Grayson-Jockey Club Research Board and Center for Equine Health/UC Davis Advisory Board.

— Jesse Choper. Professor of constitutional law and corporation law at University of California, Berkeley. Served at university since 1965 and was dean from 1982 through 1992.

Bo Derek. Actress known for her starring role in "10" in 1979. Special envoy of the Secretary of State for Wildlife Trafficking, working to create awareness of the dangers of wildlife trafficking. National honorary chairwoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Rehabilitation Special Events, which consists of four annual therapeutic and rehabilitative events designed to help veterans overcome their disabilities through competition. Appointed by President George W. Bush to the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees. An avid horsewoman, serves as spokeswoman (along with trainer Nick Zito) for the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which would ban horse slaughter and the transport of horses from the U.S. for human consumption in other countries. Wrote "Riding Lessons: Everything That Matters in Life I Learned from Horses."

Jerome S. Moss. Formed A&M Records with his friend and partner, Herb Alpert, in 1962. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award in the non-performer category. Released "The Lonely Bull" performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, which sold 700,000 copies. Other A&M performers included Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), Carole King, The Carpenters, Janet Jackson, Amy Grant, The Police, Sting, Burt Bacharach, Supertramp, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, Peter Frampton, Joe Cocker, Styx, Quincy Jones and Soundgarden. Purchased his first racehorse in 1970 and won many races and awards.

Richard A. Rosenberg. Solana Beach resident and former worldwide head of the William Morris Agency's music department. Practiced law in Beverly Hills for more than 11 years. Raced standardbreds for many years in California and currently owns thoroughbreds racing in Southern California.

Source: California Horse Racing Board

California Association of Racing Fairs board

John Alkire, Big Fresno Fair, chairman
Dan Jacobs, Antelope Valley Fair, Lancaster, vice chairman
Rick Pickering, Alameda County Fair, Pleasanton
Kelly Violini, Monterey County Fair
Vince Agnifili, Southern California Fair, Perris
Norb Bartosik, California State Fair & Exposition, Sacramento
Michael Paluszak

Budget changes at San Joaquin Fair

2008
(Nine days of racing in September, not during the fair)
Total fair revenue: $3.2 million
Total fair expenditures: $3.8 million (covered deficit by using money initially allocated to upgrade equipment for the satellite wager center)
Revenue from racing: $1.0 million
Expenses for racing: $550,000
Percentage of race revenue to fair operations: Percentage of race revenue to fair operations: 11.8 percent
Cost for entertainment (includes main acts, smaller bands, clowns, Washboard Willie, equipment): $513,000

2009
(Estimates only, as books are not completed yet; nine days of racing in June)
Total fair revenue: $3.0 million
Total fair expenditures: $3.2 million
Revenue from racing: $1.0 million
Percentage of race revenue to fair operations: 12.9 percent
Expenses for racing: $588,000
Cost for entertainment: $396,000

2010
(Projected; five days of racing)
Total fair revenue: $3.0 million
Fair expenditures: $2.8
Racing revenue: $757,000 (includes estimated $200,000 the fair will be compensated for having its dates reduced to five)
Racing expenses: $339,000

Source: San Joaquin Fair

Northern California horse racing dates

Dec. 26-Feb. 21, Feb. 25-June 13, Aug. 25-Oct. 3, Oct. 20-Dec. 19: Golden Gate Fields, Albany (187 days)
June 16-20: San Joaquin Fair, Stockton (five days)
June 23-July 11: Alameda County Fair, Pleasanton (15 days)
July 14-25: California State Fair, Sacramento (10 days)
July 28-Aug. 15: Sonoma County Fair, Santa Rosa (15 days)
Aug. 12-22: Humboldt County Fair, Ferndale (nine days)
Oct. 6-17: Big Fresno Fair, Fresno (10 days)

Source: California Horse Racing Board

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