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This morning, there willl be a steady stream of vans rolling up Highway 101 to Santa Rosa as the stable area at the Sonoma County Fair begins welcoming horses in advance of the Friday, July 26 opening-day program.

"We've got 500 stalls on the backside and every one of them has been assigned," director of racing Richard Lewis said.

"Besides the horses on the grounds, we'll also draw from the 1,000 stabled at Golden Gate Fields and 300 from Pleasanton. We're anticipating good racing."

While the fair is steeped in tradition, patrons will notice some changes this year on the racing end:

Two racing days have been dropped from the three-week schedule and instead of beginning on a Wednesday, the opener is Friday. In this, its 77th year, the fair will offer 13 days of racing.

On Fridays, the races will begin at 3:15 p.m. instead of the usual 1:15 p.m. The earlier post time will remain in effect of Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

In late March, the fair board severed ties with the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF) and is now autonomous.

"This wasn't a decision we made quickly because we were one of the founding members of CARF," Lewis explained. "It came down to our board of directors deciding we could go in a more positive direction on our own.

"CARF would furnish a lot of the personnel and departments for us and when we put the figures on paper, we could do the same things for less money than what CARF was taking.

"We'll use that money to improve our grounds and hopefully, if the mutual handle is strong, pass on the increase to horsemen in purse money."

Among the changes this summer are a new racing secretary (Robert Moreno) and new paymaster of purses (Linda Anderson).

"We've gotten a lot of help from the California racing industry preparing for the meet and we're confident there will be no problems."

Shortening the meet two days was a decision made before the fair cut ties with CARF.

"We didn't want to cut back but CARF urged all the fairs to shorten their meets and we went along with it," Lewis said. "We're asking for 15 days in 2014."

The decision for a later start time on Fridays was made to coincide with Del Mar in Southern California, which begins at 3:15 p.m. on Fridays.

"A lot of our fans enjoy simulcast wagering on the Del Mar races, so the change on Fridays made sense," Lewis said. "We're hopeful people getting off work will come out for the last few races." The last race on Fridays will be around 7 p.m.

Six stakes races worth a total of $300,000 will be decided by closing day August 11. One added money race ($75,000 Wine Country Debutante) was dropped and the purse for the Cavonnier Juvenile was cut by $25,000.

Five of the stakes races will be decided on the turf course and all will be run on either Saturdays or Sundays.

Sonoma County boasts the only grass racing on the fair circuit and the plan is to run two or three races each day over the grass.

Russell Baze, who recently won his 12,000th race, will again head the jockey colony.

Jerry Hollendorfer, like Baze a member the National Racing Hall of Fame, figures to vie for the local training title. Steve Specht — from Santa Rosa — and Bill Morey Jr. will also saddle their share of winners.

Entries for Friday's opening day card will be drawn on Tuesday.