A man in a dapper red sportcoat blared with his bugle to announce that the horses at Stockton's race track were coming onto the track and the race would begin in 10 minutes.
It would be the first race of the day and the first race of the nine-day racing season at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds.
Opening day drew 600 to 800 people, but San Joaquin Fair board member Mitch Slater expects it to pick up once the community is more aware of the races.
After more than a century of horse racing in conjunction with the San Joaquin Fair, the California Horse Racing Board moved Stockton's racing season to September. For many years, the races and fair were held in August, but the fair has been held in late June the past two decades.
The California Horse Racing Board changed the dates for Stockton for two basic reasons - the recent closure of the Bay Meadows race track in San Mateo, and the need to fill the gap in the calendar between the California State Fair and the Big Fresno Fair in October, Fair CEO Forrest White said last week.
San Joaquin Fair officials don't know what turnout to expect during the new September run.
"I don't think it's too good of an idea," said John Tubbs, of Manteca, who has come to the races in Stockton since 1976. "You're losing a lot of school teachers who came out in the summer."
It was fairly quiet in the grandstand Wednesday. The fans didn't cheer loudly for their horses, and some didn't appear to know the race had started until the horses began running in front of the grandstand toward the finish line.
However, there were the devoted racing fans who bought a set of six box seats for $50 per day. They read their racing forms diligently, checking the handicaps and odds for each race. Tubbs said his son handicapped his first race at the age of two. The son, now a successful attorney, is 32.
Other bettors aren't so sophisticated. They decide on their favorites based on how the horse looks or which one has the most interesting name, said Deborah Cook, deputy manager at the race track.
Colleen Christophersen, of Tracy, who came to the track with her three-year-old son, always bets on horse No. 7. Her friend, Priscilla Martinez, of Patterson, said she bets by just looking at the horses.
But Rachelle Scott, who grew up in Manteca but now lives in Italy, has another technique.
"I've got to talk to the horse - 'How's it going? How are you feeling?'" Scott said.
Although he serves on the fair board for the Second Agricultural Association, Mitch Slater said he isn't a real expert on betting, but he enjoys placing a wager here and there. He'll comb over the racing form, a tab made of newsprint that shows each of the horses' handicaps and previous race results.
Slater, maintenance and operations director for the Lodi Unified School District, said he looks for the section that lists each jockey to help determine where to place his bet. The list shows how many first-, second- and third-place finishes each jockey had, along with statistics such as how many times they make a bettor more money than he put in.
You can purchase a program for $1, but for novice bettors, you can buy a yellow sheet listing the horses most likely to win for $3.50, Slater said.
People can go to a counter to place their bets with a clerk, or they can use a machine similar to an ATM to wager.
In addition to betting on races in Stockton, people at the track can bet on simulcast races from places like Del Mar and Suffolk Downs, Slater said. Those races are shown on a large-screen TV on the track between the Stockton races.
Tubbs said he prefers the June racing dates concurrent with the San Joaquin Fair, but he admits September provides better weather. He also suggests that more people would come if the first race was at 3 p.m. rather than 12:45 p.m.
John Regli, of Sutter Creek, who usually comes to the races in Stockton a couple of times a year, isn't sure whether the September schedule will be successful.
"It's too early to tell," Regli said. "This is kind of an experiment."
Horse racing coming to StocktonRacing dates: Friday through Sunday this week; Wednesday through Sunday next week.
Time: Daily post time is 12:45 p.m.; final race ends at about 5:30 p.m.
Number of races: Eight to 10 per day, sometimes 12 on the weekend.
Admission: $3 per day. Opening day is free, and seniors admitted free Sept. 5 and Sept. 12.
Box seats: Available for purchase for $50 per day, which includes special free parking closer to the grandstand than the regular parking lot.
Parking: Free in the main lot; $5 in the box-seat lot closer to the track.
Information: Call 466-5041.
Source: San Joaquin Fairgrounds
Glossary of termsWin: Horse that finishes first.
Place: Horse that places second.
Show: Horse that places third.
Exacta (or perfecta): A wager in which the first two finishers in a race, in exact order of finish, must be picked.
Trifecta: A wager picking the first three finishers in exact order.
Scratch: Removed from race.
Source: Daily Racing Form