This State Fair arrives Friday with a new accent on racing. Not only will there be an unprecedented three weeks of thoroughbred racing, Sacramento’s summer meet has attracted a star to the announcer’s booth.
Dave Rodman, Maryland’s longtime “Voice of the Preakness,” has called some of America’s most prestigious races, including the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. Fresh off American Pharoah’s triumph while becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, Rodman is spending July in Sacramento as the State Fair’s announcer. He makes his Cal Expo debut Friday on the fair’s opening day.
“This is my first time in Sacramento,” said Rodman, a New Orleans native who was recruited for the job by fellow announcer Frank Mirahmadi. “I like it. I know in California I won’t have to worry about snow, rain or fog blocking my view.”
Racing will run through the State Fair’s closing day July 26. That’s a coup for Cal Expo, said general manager Rick Pickering.
“It makes sense,” Pickering said. “Our attendance is up 19 percent over the past two years. … The single highest week of fair attendance in Northern California is our third week, yet we had no racing. That got the attention of the (state) horse racing board (which allocates dates).”
On Saturday, Cal Expo will dedicate its racetrack in memory of Kirk Breed, Cal Expo’s former general manager and the California Horse Racing Board’s former executive director. A life-sized bronze bust of Breed, who died in 2013, will be unveiled in a ceremony before the $50,000 Governor’s Cup.
This is my first time in Sacramento. I like it. I know in California I won’t have to worry about snow, rain or fog blocking my view.
Dave Rodman, track announcer
A second stakes, the inaugural $50,000 Golden Bear Sprint, will be July 18. Drawn by new incentives and the highest purses in Northern California, more than 350 horses are expected to compete during the meet – about 200 more than 2014, according to racing director Larry Swartzlander.
Fans and horsemen will notice several improvements. The main track is ringed with a new inner safety rail. The clubhouse got a $1 million facelift. On the backstretch, Cal Expo spent about $700,000 to create air-conditioned dorm rooms for grooms, so they no longer have to sleep in substandard tack rooms. And horses will benefit from more misters and hydration stations.
“During the drought, we let all the grass go golden, but horses need water,” Pickering said.
Recruiting Rodman gives the State Fair meet a boost. Rodman, 56, will host free handicapping seminars for fans 90 minutes before first post each racing day.
“I’m just a guy who loves racing,” he said. “This is my 35th year as an announcer, including 25 Preaknesses. After several near misses, finally this year I called a Triple Crown winner. I was pretty sure American Pharoah was going to do it, but there almost was no call.”
A driving downpour in Baltimore nearly obliterated his view just before American Pharoah’s 7-length Preakness win.
“Up to three minutes to (post time), I couldn’t see the starting gate or the far turn,” he said. “Who would have thought it could rain that hard? But I’ve learned in racing, always expect the unexpected.”
Rodman got his first taste of California fair racing at Pleasanton’s Alameda County Fair/Oak Tree meet; he called six days of racing in 2014 and the full meet this summer. Unlike his Maryland job at Pimlico and Laurel race courses, the California fair circuit features a mix of thoroughbreds, mules, Arabians and quarter horses.
“It’s so fun,” Rodman said. “Every race is different. What I like about the fairs is the excitement of the crowd. They’re always excited; not just for one big race but every race. They’re here to have fun, maybe win some money and have a good time.”
- Where: Cal Expo, 1600 Expo Blvd.
- When: Opening week: Friday, 3:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 1:30 p.m. July 16-19 and July 23-26: 1:15 p.m. except 4:15 p.m. Fridays.
- Admission: $12 (racing included with fair admission).
- Seminars: Announcer Dave Rodman will host free handicapping sessions at the grandstand 90 minutes before first post each racing day.
- Details: www.bigfun.org