The California Horse Racing Board plans to eliminate 12 Thoroughbred racing dates this summer that belonged to the state fair and reduce the number of competing Northern California dates by four days.
The late schedule revision reduces the overall number of fair racing dates in August, September, and October from 65 to 53, and the number of overlapping dates from 21 to 17. It was brought about by the California Exposition and State Fair's decision to operate harness racing this summer to give the fledgling Sacramento Harness Association a boost as it takes control of the state's only sulky meet at the fairgrounds later this year.
The CHRB, which tentatively approved the changes in an unofficial vote taken at the last commission hearing April 28, is expected to give its final approval May 26 at Los Alamitos.
Dave Elliott, Cal Expo's racing director, said the state fair had planned to lease its Thoroughbred dates, which were to be run Aug. 24-Sept. 5, to either Santa Rosa or Pleasanton, which complete their county fair racing meets earlier in the summer. However, a rival plan proposed by Bay Meadows to drop the Cal Expo dates from the schedule and move up Bay Meadows' summer/fall season gained the support of the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers.
Bay Meadows, by commencing a few days earlier Aug. 26 and agreeing not to race Oct. 5-6 and Oct. 12-13, will eliminate four days of overlapping racing with the Fresno County Fair.
"We wanted to cut back on the overlap," CHRB commissioner Richard Shapiro said. "We have too few horses to fill races as it is, and this should help alleviate the horse shortage in Northern California. Next year, it would be back to the regular racing calendar. It should really help Fresno."
Shapiro said "emerging breeds"--Appaloosa, Arabian, Mule, and Quarter Horse--would be accommodated elsewhere on the schedule to make up for their lost races at Cal Expo, which carded 37 such heats last summer. "We made some modifications to help accommodate the emerging breeds," he said.
Bay Meadows has agreed to host the state fair's traditional Thoroughbred stakes, the $60,000 Governor's Handicap and $50,000 Earlene McCabe Derby, Elliott said.
Elliott said he is concerned about Cal Expo's potential loss in commissions and revenue, which totaled $755,000 last year, by giving up Thoroughbred racing this summer and losing the lease of those dates. The state fair estimated on-track attendance at 9,000 a day last year for a 12-day meet, with total handle of $19.6 million.
"There's no lease money now," he said. "We don't know if we'll make money (on harness racing during the fair). Our board wants us to be able to break even. We're a business, too, and we need to be able to do that. So, we're going to put all our effort into making this work.
"We've had a very positive reception from the (harness) horsemen. They want this to work, too. We'll make a go of it. And this is just a one-year experiment to help out the Sacramento Harness Association."
The California fair racing season kicks off June 15 with the San Joaquin County Fair at Stockton. Cal Expo plans a 26-day harness meet beginning Aug. 6 that would lead into SHA's first meet, which begins Sept. 23.
Elliott, who hopes the volume of harness racing can offset the loss of Thoroughbred revenue, noted Cal Expo would continue to offer Thoroughbred simulcasts during the harness meet.