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Small wager could add up to big jackpot at State Fair

Jockey Joe Barrington works out a thoroughbred on the Cal Expo horse track on Tuesday, July 13, 2010. As the California State Fair opens on Friday, the Cal Expo horse track will be bustling as well, with 10 days of thoroughbred racing.
Jockey Joe Barrington works out a thoroughbred on the Cal Expo horse track on Tuesday, July 13, 2010. As the California State Fair opens on Friday, the Cal Expo horse track will be bustling as well, with 10 days of thoroughbred racing. rpench@sacbee.com

With a 20-cent wager, somebody really could hit the jackpot at the California State Fair.

After a tweak in state horse racing rules, there’s already considerable cash on the line in the “Gold Dust Jackpot Pick Six” and the “Gold Strike Super High Five,” two jackpot bets that could attract national attention – and big money – to State Fair horse racing.

During the fair, Cal Expo hosts 10 days of thoroughbred racing, starting Friday.

“We’ve got some big pools to go after on the first day,” said Larry Swartzlander, the State Fair’s director of racing. “We’re starting the meet with a $120,266 carryover in the Jackpot Pick Six and $38,548 in the High Five. Those are already bigger pools than we’ve ever seen (for those bets) at the State Fair.”

Usually, those exotic wagers have to pay out the entire pool on the closing day of any meet. But this year, the California Horse Racing Board agreed to treat racing at Northern California’s summer fairs as one consolidated meet, coordinated by the California Authority of Racing Fairs.

So after Oak Tree Racing wrapped up Monday at Pleasanton’s Alameda County Fair, the State Fair meet opens with substantial carryovers in both jackpots.

“We’ll do well, especially if those pools continue to grow,” Swartzlander said. “Jackpot bets get national attention, especially on (online) betting sites. The bigger the pools, the more attention they draw. It’s a big plus for us.”

What makes those jackpots so tempting – and so difficult to win – is that the entire jackpot is paid out if there’s only one winning ticket. Otherwise, 60 percent of the pool carries over to the next racing day.

Both jackpots are minimum 20-cent wagers, although bettors usually invest far more with multiple combinations. The Gold Dust requires selecting the winner in six consecutive races. To hit the Gold Strike, bettors must correctly choose the first five finishers in the day’s final race.

For the second summer in a row, Cal Expo will host live racing all three weeks during the State Fair. Thoroughbreds will be on the track Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week. During the final week, the track also hosts Thursday racing.

That’s one day less than last year, Swartzlander noted, because Del Mar opens on a Friday (July 15) instead of a Thursday.

The meet features a new announcer, Chris Griffin, a protégé of longtime announcer Frank Mirahmadi and the voice of the Harlem Globetrotters for five seasons. He made his horse racing debut last summer at Ferndale’s Humboldt County Fair and also called the just-concluded Pleasanton meet.

The highlight of the meet will be the $50,000-added Governor’s Handicap, a 6-furlong sprint for fillies and mares, on July 23.

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

State Fair meet

  • Where: Cal Expo
  • When: Friday-Sunday, July 15-17, 21-24; 3:15 p.m. Fridays; 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Saturdays, Sundays
  • Admission: $12 fair admission (includes racing)
  • Details: www.castatefair.org, www.calfairs.net
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