From stakes to weiner dogs, Cal Expo racing has a packed State Fair menu.
Starting with Friday’s opener, thoroughbred racing returns to Cal Expo for 11 days during the State Fair, including all three weekends.
“We have the newest grandstand in Northern California and a great race track,” said Rick Pickering, Cal Expo’s general manager and the fair’s CEO. “We’ve done a lot of recruiting throughout the state and other states as well. We have horses coming in from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Arizona and New Mexico, as well as Southern California and the Bay Area.”
In addition to horses and mules, Saturday’s program also features a first: The Weiner Dog Nationals. Between horse races, 64 dachshunds and wiener-dog mixes will scramble to the finish line in eight heats.
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“We’re trying something fun,” said Larry Swartzlander, the fair’s director of racing.
Other promotions include “Steampunk Day at the Races” on Friday, July 28, with a costume contest judged by “Steampunk’d” contestant Ave Rose and a nightly “Tribute to Hollywood Horses” at the nearby horse arena featuring equine screen stars that appeared in TV shows and movies including “Seabiscuit.”
“California owes its movie industry roots to horses,” Pickering said. He retold the story of how early California governor and racehorse owner Leland Stanford made a bet that a horse runs with all four feet off the ground. (It does.) Proving that point led to the first motion picture.
“Without that horse or that bet, we’d have no movies,” he added. “Horses and horse racing have always been part of the State Fair.”
While other California meets have suffered from horse shortages, Cal Expo expects fuller fields and plenty of action.
“We have 110 more thoroughbreds than we did last year when we opened the meet,” Swartzlander said. “That’s encouraging. Other tracks have really been struggling with field size, but we hope to have bigger fields. Our goal is to have eight, nine, 10 horses per race. That’s what fans want.”
Cal Expo already has 220 thoroughbreds on the backstretch plus a few dozen mules, Arabians and quarter horses, he said.
For the State Fair, announcer Chris Griffin returns as race caller. Highlighting the racing schedule will be the $50,000-added Governor’s Handicap, a six-furlong dash for fillies and mares, on Saturday, July 22.
“The track is in excellent shape,” Swartzlander said. “It’s fast, even and fair with no speed bias. Unlike most fair tracks, Cal Expo has big sweeping turns. You can close from anywhere on this race track. That makes for exciting racing.”
State Fair horse racing
Where: Cal Expo, 1600 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento
When: Thursdays-Sundays. First post, 2:15 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 1:45 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
Admission: $12; seniors (62 and older), $10; youth (5-12), $8; children 4 and older admitted free. Parking, $15.