The California Horse Racing Board is considering a plan that would shift some of the days of horse racing in the state — and potentially leave the Sonoma County Fair out to pasture next year.
As a result, Sonoma County lawmakers have teamed up in pressuring the state board to drop its plans. We hope they succeed. The board meets today at the Santa Anita race track near Los Angeles.
As Staff Writer Sean Scully reported on Saturday, the California Horse Racing Board is looking at allotting three weeks of horse racing to each of the three remaining fairs in Northern California that have racetracks. That would include the fairs in Alameda and Sonoma counties as well as the state fair in Sacramento.
The problem is the board is looking at giving the state fair exclusive rights to horse racing the week of July 24-30, which is traditionally the first week of Sonoma County's fair.
Under the existing plan, Sonoma County would get the last week of racing, the week of Aug. 11-17, which is traditionally a week after the fair is closed. It also is the time of the year when school starts for many school districts, which is one of the reasons locals are understandably opposed to the idea.
Opponents of the change say it could cost the local fair $150,000 or more in revenue and reduced attendance.
"Youth involvement by 4-H and Future Farmers of America would significantly decrease with school back in session," Assembly members Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, and Mariko Yamada, D- Davis, and state Sens. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, and Lois Wolk, D-Davis, wrote to the racing board. "This would also have a negative impact on the fair's temporary employees, many of whom are local teachers and students."
With some districts starting classes in mid-August while some schools and colleges don't break for summer until early or mid-June, finding the right time for fairs and horse racing is more difficult than it once was.
Meanwhile, it's no secret that the whole industry of horse racing has been running on tired legs. Hollywood Park, in Inglewood, once the iconic venue of California's horse racing will halt racing as of Feb. 1 to make room for a shopping center and housing, the same fate that has met many race tracks.
The advent of Internet wagering also has cut into the draw of racing across the state.
Shifting the dates of horse racing at fairs could help all Northern California venues grow attendance and build revenue. Shifting the dates of horse racing to favor the state fair makes no sense, especially on such short notice.
The dates for next year's Sonoma County fair — July 24 to Aug. 10 — are already set. Forcing the fair to push back horse-racing a week would cause widespread confusion, frustration and potentially irreparable financial harm.
Local lawmakers are right in requesting state horse racing officials to drop this plan. It's a bad gamble.