People, Stories, Summer Series 8

Racing at the Fair – Dorothy Brown

Summer. The season when lingering daylight and warmer weather draw people outside to enjoy summer’s traditional events and amusements. Summer is in full swing at the offices of Rear Curtain and we wanted to share the season with stories.

Over the next several weeks we will be hosting summer-related stories from different photographers. Check back each week for a new story in our summer series.

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Racing at the Fair

Along one side of the Alameda County Fairgrounds, beyond the carnival rides and the exhibition hall but before you get to the livestock pens, is the racetrack. From Thursday through Sunday for the few weeks of the run, your ticket to the fair gets you into the races for free. Some of the folks in the grandstand are stalwart fans of the sport. They study their racing forms and place their bets just like they would at Golden Gate Fields. Others enjoy the races as one more novelty of the fair. They are just there for fun, and maybe to sit in the shade of the bleachers for a while.

For a few months each summer, Golden Gate Fields racetrack closes so the horses and jockeys can travel the fair circuit. Pleasanton, home of the Alameda County Fair, is first on the schedule. It is thirty-five miles inland from the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay, far from the fog that the athletes are used to. It’s hot. As the mercury climbs into the high 90s, jockeys gather in a sliver of shade in the paddock until it’s time to mount.

The races here matter just as much to a career; they just feel different. The air is heavy as the sweet scents of cotton candy mix with the more pungent aromas of animals and sweat. The afternoons begin with the hilarious mule races and are broken up with silly events for the kids. There is much less formality here. Less separation between the athletes and the spectators. As horses and riders pass by in the paddock, you can almost reach out and touch them.

But the excitement is infectious as the horses kick up clods of dirt in the rush to the finish line. Maybe your lucky number is in the money. Maybe not. There are no carnival barkers here urging you to play, no big stuffed animals to win, but it’s still a game of chance. Anything can happen when you’re racing at the fair.

You can find more of Dorothy Brown’s work here.

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  • toni littlestone says: August 19, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Thank you for the great story and wonderful photos, Dorothy! You really brought to life the fun and lively energy of this event and place. People are having a wonderful time, and your photos show that so beautifully.

    • Dorothy Brown says: August 21, 2013 at 11:27 am

      Thanks, Toni! I hadn’t been to the county fair in years and years, and even then I never went to the races there. It was really interesting and fun to see the sport in that environment. Makes me very grateful for our fog. 🙂

  • Julie says: August 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    What a wonderful photo story to see what goes on beyond the races on the track. You get a real sense of the excitement, the festival and the seriousness of the horseracing.

    • Dorothy Brown says: August 21, 2013 at 11:37 am

      I really appreciate your comments, Julie. It has been fascinating to observe the intensity and focus of jockeys just before they race. It seems perfectly suited to Golden Gate Fields, their home racetrack, and somehow out of place in the carnival atmosphere of the fair. I admire their focus even more now.

  • JerseyStyle Photography says: August 20, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Very nice work, Dorothy. I like your POV here. I agree with Julie – a good sense of excitement combined some BTS.

    ~ Mark

    • Dorothy Brown says: August 21, 2013 at 11:43 am

      Thank you, Mark! My fascination with horse racing is a relatively recent development. I’m glad I was able to observe and learn about the sport at Golden Gate Fields before witnessing it at the fair. It was really interesting to notice what was different and what remained the same.

  • Damien says: August 21, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Dorothy. Great story. Reminded me of going to the Alameda County Fair as a child and the excitement of the fair and the 4H competitions. The races were often introduced by the Alameda County Sheriffs parading on horseback. If I recall correctly, they trained at a stable between Hayward and the interchange near Dublin? At least the honorary Sheriffs did, including a friend of my father, who owned a paving business. OK, maybe too far back. Great photos too.

  • Dorothy Brown says: August 21, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Thanks, Damien! There is something about the fair that can take us right back to those childhood memories. I felt that too. The smells, sights, and sounds were so familiar, even after many (many) years. I didn’t really expect that. It seems the summer fair experience is something most of us can remember and share.