San Joaquin Fair officials in Stockton are worried that talks about reducing or eliminating horse racing will cause the entire fair to go out of business.
"Economically, it would be devastating," said Mitch Slater, who serves on the fair board. "If we were to lose horse racing, we would probably have to sell the property. We'd have to revisit how we do business."
It would be even worse considering that Stockton is about to celebrate the fair's 150th year, Slater and fair manager Debbie Cook said.
Slater and Cook say that some horse owners and breeders want to consolidate the horse racing schedule, with the Stockton fair possibly being on the chopping block.
Horse racing is offered at the California State Fair and at seven county fairs — in Stockton, 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.
In Stockton, horse racing finances most of the fair's operation, Cook said. For example, the free concerts by big-name artists are financed from revenue the fair gets from horse racing. So are many employee salaries, Cook said.
Horse racing dates remain up in the air because fair operators are negotiating with organizations representing horse owners, trainers and breeders, she added.
"We're still haggling out who's going to race and when," Cook said.
Representatives from the California Horse Racing Association, a state agency that determines race dates and venues, weren't available for comment Monday because it was a state furlough day, according to a voicemail greeting.
One of the horse-related organizations, the Thorougbred Owners of California, didn't return calls Monday.
The Stockton fair has had 10 days of horse racing for many years, but reduced it to nine days three years ago because there aren't as many race horses as there used to be, Cook said.
The fair typically generates about $1 million in net revenue, Cook said.
"Racing supports the fair itself," Cook said. "If we lose that kind of money, we'll go under."
The fair lost $300,000 in 2008, when the California Horse Racing Association moved the horse racing in Stockton to September. It was returned to June during the fair this year.
But Cook and the San Joaquin fair board will not go down without a fight.
"We are not rolling over, and we're not allowing them to roll over on us," she said.