San Joaquin County residents aren't used to being able to see horse racing in September, but they will be able to for the first time this year.
The horses will race for nine days beginning Wednesday at the San Joaquin Fairgrounds on Charter Way, also known as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Fairgrounds CEO Forrest White said he is busy trying to promote next week's races since the community is used to races being held in conjunction with the San Joaquin Fair in June. They've been racing in June for 20 years. Before that, they've raced 100 years in August, when the fair was held before moving to the June schedule.
But this year, 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, White said.
"This year's going to be a struggle," White said. "It's new. People aren't used to it."
Fairgrounds officials are even thinking of telecasting football during the races on the weekends to lure in more fans.
Horse racing in general is facing some challenges, White said. They include:
• Taking place at the fairgrounds with nothing else going on. Previously, it was held in conjunction with going to the fair, where visitors can combine watching the races with carnival rides, concerts, looking at livestock and displays and eating traditional fair food.
• Competing with other forms of gaming, such as the Indian casinos, card rooms like Lodi's Wine Country Casino and Restaurant, and the California Lottery.
• The trend for people to bet on the horses at casinos and now on their personal computer without having to go to the race track.
Horse racing coming to StocktonOpening day: Wednesday.
Other racing dates: Sept. 5-7, Sept. 10-14.
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 one day or for the entire nine-day season.
Information, call 466-5041.
Source: San Joaquin Fairgrounds
Mitch Slater, who is maintenance and operations director for the Lodi Unified School District and serves on the fair board for the Second Agricultural Association, doesn't like the schedule change.
Racing "keeps the fair live and vibrant," Slater said. "We don't know how many people will show up."
White said that he's a purist when it comes to horse racing - that the best way to enjoy it is in person, watching the horses and participating in the social life at the track.
But younger people who stay at home and play video games also tend to bet on the horses from home, White said.
So the fairgrounds is trying to market the races as something to see in person. Admission most days is only $3, and parking is free. During the fair, admission is $9, and parking costs $5.
"We have to make it fun, make it an outing," he said.