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Decision on Sonoma County Fair horse racing put off

  • Riders during the first day of the Sonoma County Fair in 2011. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

State racing officials will take at least another month to decide whether to give the state fair an extra week of horse racing next year at the expense of the Sonoma County Fair.

The California Horse Racing Commission had been scheduled to vote on the plan Thursday in a meeting in Santa Anita, but it became evident there was deep disagreement between key parts of the horse racing industry and board member Steve Beneto, who proposed the change last month.

Chairman David Israel delayed the vote until at least the Nov. 21 meeting, calling for more negotiations in the meantime.

Beneto, a former member of the state fair board, wants Sonoma County to move its fair a week later to accommodate an extra week of racing at the state fair, set to wrap up July 27. The Sonoma fair had planned to run July 24 through Aug. 10 and was counting on running horse racing throughout that period.

Fair Manager Tawny Tesconi has said repeatedly that moving the fair dates at this late point is impossible, and warned that losing one week of racing during the fair would cost at least $150,000 in revenue the cash-strapped organization had been counting on for next year.

At Thursday's meeting, Beneto accused Tesconi of making “some statements I think are not true,” saying moving the fair dates should be easy.

“It wouldn't affect the fair at all,” he said. “It's just one week.”

Tesconi, however, stood firm, saying the Sonoma County Fair Board had made clear it would not alter the planned 2014 dates.

“I really don't think it is this board's jurisdiction to tell us when we can run our fair,” she told Beneto.

Other players in the racing industry also voiced opposition to the plan. Joe Morris, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said his board members were all opposed, with owners preferring to spend July at the turf track in Sonoma rather than on the dirt one at the state fairgrounds, known as CalExpo.

Representatives of Golden Gate Fields on the Berkeley-Albany border expressed concern that shifting the Sonoma dates later into August to accommodate Beneto's plans would cut into late summer dates they had been counting on for their track for next year.

It's not clear how much support Beneto's plan has on the seven-member board. Only one member, Jesse Choper has expressed support, while the chairman expressed some concern Thursday about the possible collateral effect on Golden Gate Fields, which has been enjoying a modest economic rebound after several difficult years.

The remaining members have yet to comment.

(You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean.scully@pressdemocrat.com.)

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