With a trumpet sounding the fanfare, the annual horse racing meet got underway Thursday at The Big Fresno Fair.
For eight of the next 10 days (the meet is dark Tuesday and Wednesday), horses of all types will take to the track at the Fresno Fairgrounds, where field sizes are expected to average about seven per race.
And there’s some relief in response to that figure for the avid horse racing fan in Fresno, with meets at Golden Gate Fields in the east Bay Area shortly before and after the fair a potential threat to the local count.
Regardless, even the smaller races can add up to a big payoff. The opening Pick 6 jackpot, which requires a would-be handicapper to pick winners of the final six races of the day, paid $1,873 for a $2 ticket. And the $1 superfecta in Race 3 paid $433 to anyone who could select the top four finishers in that 330-yard dash.
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“This one’s a winner,” an excited, elderly Fresno man said while waving his ticket following one of the races on the eight-race opening day card.
Friday figures to be one of the biggest race dates at the Fresno Fair with 10 races scheduled and purses totaling $131,300.
Friday figures to be one of the meet’s bigger dates, with 10 races scheduled and offering a combined purse of $131,300.
Fresno Racing Secretary Tom Doutrich said the fair was able to line up a similar number of entries compared to a year ago by offering incentives to horse trainers.
Those who ran five horses, for example, received $500 and someone who ran 10 earned $1,000. In addition, they were paid an extra $1,000 for racing at the San Joaquin Fair, which ran Sept. 11-20, and the Fresno Fair, which caps the California fair season.
Fresno horse racing officials said they felt an incentive was needed since most horses in Northern California, the main pool from which the fair is drawing, are based at Golden Gate.
With those meets in Albany before and after the fair, horse owners simply could opt to rest their animals for two weeks rather than make the trip to Fresno.
“We felt it was going to be tough to grow the field,” said Larry Swartzlander, The Big Fresno Fair racing director. “But all fairs have been up in handle (amount of money wagered). I expect Fresno to be the same.”
$827,645.51 Total handle (money wagered) on the first day of horse racing at the Fresno Fair (includes bets made via simulcast)
Fresno’s track experienced a bit of bump Wednesday, even with no live racing that day. Bettors wagering on races available via simulcast helped account for a 24 percent increase from last year.
Thursday’s action, meanwhile, generated a total handle of $827,645.51, with an announced crowd of 3,160 on hand for the live racing as well as continued simulcasts from big-name tracks such as Santa Anita and Keeneland.
“We might not have the quantity of horses, but we have high quality races this year,” Doutrich said.
Among Thursday’s winners was even-money favorite Broke the Mold, a Harris Farms-owned horse that picked up its first career victory in Race 4.
Broke the Mold had raced seven times previously before coming home on top in Thursday’s 1-mile race with jockey Cristobal Herrera aboard.
It was on the final turn that Broke the Mold separated itself from the remainder of the five-horse field to capture the memorable win by 4 1/4 lengths.
“Everything was good,” Herrera said. “Ran strong at the end. First time we win.”