For the first time in four years, the Thoroughbreds are coming back to Cal Expo.

Site of the California State Fair, the Sacramento venue will host an 11-day meet, starting Aug. 20. Racing will continue daily through Labor Day with Aug. 25 and 26 dark.

"We have a lot of horses shipping in," said racing director David Elliott, who expects 550 to 600 Thoroughbreds, mixed breeds and mules to stable at his facility. "We're doing everything we can to take care of everyone."

For 46 consecutive months, Cal Expo had hosted continuous harness racing. For the past three summers, the track offered trotters and pacers instead of running breeds at the State Fair in an attempt to help struggling operator Sacramento Harness Association. 

But SHA went out of business in March. That left landlord Cal Expo to operate its own harness meet, which ended Aug. 2.

Due to public demand, the State Fair -- which annually attracts about 1 million visitors -- brought back Thoroughbreds this summer. Harness racing will resume Sept. 12.

Cal Expo spent more than $150,000 to convert its one-mile dirt oval from a tightly compacted harness track to a softer surface for running breeds. Tons of sand and organic material were added.

Horses started working over the renovated track Aug. 14 and so far the reviews have been positive, Elliott said.

“We worked 24-7 to get it done,” he said. “Everybody I’ve talked to really likes the race track. It’s very kind. We spent a lot, but it’s money well spent if it keeps the race track safe.”

Cal Expo will offer $1.1 million in purses. Vic Stauffer, the voice of Hollywood Park, will serve as announcer.

Highlighting the schedule will be the $75,000 Governor’s Handicap on Aug. 23. The State Fair's marquee stakes will be at 1 1/8  miles for 3-year-olds and up.

In addition, Cal Expo created a new stakes: the $75,000 California State Fair Sprint, a six-furlong dash also open to 3-year-olds and up, to be run Aug. 30.

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