The California horse racing scene doesn’t solely include Santa Anita Park, Del Mar, Los Alamitos, and Golden Gate Fields. Every summer, the Northern California fair circuit kicks into high gear and offers fun days at the races in family-friendly atmospheres.
The 2022 fair season kicks off on Friday, June 17, at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton. For the first time since 2019, racing will be accompanied by a full fair experience. The 2020 racing season was conducted with minimal fans in attendance, and the California horse racing and fair seasons were separated in 2021.
The long history of the fair circuit
Pleasanton’s one-mile dirt oval was constructed back in 1858. This makes it the third-oldest track in America, behind only Freehold Raceway in New Jersey and Fair Grounds in Louisiana.
Each of the tracks on the circuit has its own quirks. Sacramento’s track is also known as Cal Expo, one of the more well-known harness racing locales on the west coast. That meet’s dates have been absorbed by Pleasanton the past two years. However, with the return of the California State Fair after a pandemic-induced absence, racing is set to return as well.
The Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa is not affiliated with the California Authority of Racing Fairs, which runs the other tracks on the circuit. However, it also returns after action was cancelled the past few summers. It’s the only fair track with a turf course, which allows it to attract some horses that may skip other meets.
The Humboldt County Fair’s track, meanwhile, is a half-mile oval that hosts one of the highlights of the fair season: The Humboldt County Marathon. Run at 1 5/8 miles, the Marathon is the longest stakes race in Northern California each year.
Jockeys are known to carry a few marbles in their mouths during that race. They spit them out each time they go under the wire, so they don’t lose track of how many more laps their horses must complete.
The season concludes at the Big Fresno Fair, which is held each fall. That track made history by being one of the first racing venues in the country to offer race calls in both English and Spanish.
More on the 2022 fair season
Pleasanton runs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through Sunday, July 10. The track will also host a special holiday card on the Fourth of July.
Racing fans who arrive early can expect full-card analysis of the day’s races at handicapping seminars. Those are located on the stage outside the track’s grandstand.
Following Pleasanton’s meet, action shifts to Sacramento. That meet ends on Sunday, July 31, right before a two-week meet at Santa Rosa. The Humboldt County Fair is slated for late-August, and the Big Fresno Fair takes place in October.
Horse racing fans can bet on the action both on and off-track. Advance deposit wagering platforms such as TVG offer live streaming video and betting interfaces on computers, tablets, and phones.