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Opening Today : ‘Enjoy the Wildlife'--It’s Fair Time

Times Staff Writer

You bring in racing pigs.

And checker-playing chickens.

You put sunglasses on the goats and hire cattle with 15-foot horn spans.

And you call it, “Enjoy the Wildlife"--the 59th edition of the annual Los Angeles County Fair, which opens today in Pomona.

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Before the exposition ends its run on Sept. 28, it is expected that upwards of 1.4 million people will have sampled the blue-ribbon wines, rooted for their favorite racehorses and munched on thousands of Polish hotdogs.

The largest county fair in the nation--only three state fairs are bigger--this 1986 model (dedicated to barnyard animals) is being billed as the biggest and the best ever.

Consider just some of the numbers.

There’s the 120-foot Grand Wheel, the world’s tallest mobile carnival wheel; 250 food booths; 6,000 entries in 63 different home arts competitions; 2,000 wine contest entries; 1.5 million square feet of exhibit space and parking for 45,197 cars and 1,025 trucks. In all, 2,800 fair workers and 487 acres of fairgrounds to cover.

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“We have a lot of room out there,” says fair spokesman Sidney Robinson. “You can’t do it in a single day.”

Fair-goers will have 18 days to see, sample and hear it all. Gates open at 10 a.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Closing time is 10 p.m. on weeknights, an hour later on the weekends.

Sponsored by the nonprofit Los Angeles County Fair Assn., this year’s version may be focused on the farmyard and its traditions but it isn’t ignoring the offbeat--animal and otherwise.

Take a glance at this year’s fine arts exhibition, a show that fair spokesman Robinson aptly describes as “different then previous shows here.” Called “New Visions,” it is the kind of art that combines science and technology--computer and neon art, light and sound sculpture and holography.

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There are kinetic motorized works like “Sa-Sa Cha Cha,” the strange configuration of six warrior-like figures that greets visitors to the fine arts gallery by pounding out primitive tunes with bamboo poles.

“I think the fair-goers will love it,” beamed David Svenson, this year’s fine arts coordinator. “It (the sound) may drive us crazy, but I think the visitors will get a kick out of it.”

If they like “Sa-Sa,” there’s little doubt gallery visitors will love the “Vienna Bull’s Choir,” a grouping of white plastic cows who swirl in harmony to sound tracks from lavish 1930s musicals and “Video Rodeo,” a pair of bucking Zenith television sets just across the exhibit hall entrance.

Created by artist Jim Jenkins as a “reminder of those rocket ships your mom used to put you on in front of the grocery store,” “Video” boasts a pair of 23-inch models (one tuned to “Family Feud” and the other to cartoons) that travel in constant motion across a 20-foot mobile base. The head is a smaller black-and-white TV set swaying at the front, the mane a series of twirling antennas and the rump a mass of cords slapping in tail-like splendor against the south end of the chassis.

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More typical fare is to be found outside the gallery.

It begins with the hot-dog-on-a-stick booths, the mobile trailers selling egg rolls and pizza, the stands offering ice cream, Sno-Cones and chocolate sundaes and the shops selling cups, T-shirts and buttons, each of them emblazoned with the fair logo, a variety of barnyard animals in sunglasses.

It continues with the U.S. Postal Service offering a special stamp for the run of the fair and a bank branch that, notes Robinson, is especially popular with the “bettors in the grandstand.”

And down the road, there is the grandstand, featuring renovated stands and a horse-racing oval that was expanded to five-eighths of a mile last year.

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Ranked 13th in the nation in average daily wagering, the Pomona track offers horse racing with pari-mutuel betting as a daily feature. In all, there will be 18 thoroughbred stakes events as well as competition in quarter horse, Arabian and Appaloosa categories. Purse monies will top $2.9 million.

For those who prefer to have their animals performing, there are exhibitions ranging from the everyday to the exotic. Contests for hog callers, sheep shearers, butter churners and cow milkers are just a few of them.

There are swine exhibits, stunt-performing horses, jumping frogs and nine different breeds of sheep performing on stage, three times a day, every day.

In the “IQ Zoo,” there are the fair’s more educated animals--chickens that shoot baskets and hens that play checkers.

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And, for the first time this year, there are racing pigs.

In clusters of three or four, the racing hogs, dressed in silks and distinguishable mainly by their numbers, squeal their way around a miniature track to see which can take the prize--an Oreo cookie dangling at the end.

If the mood runs more toward the more sedate, there is the World of Pigmania, an educational display featuring various breeds of swine and their uses and byproducts and the exhibit of Ankole Watusi cattle, a rare breed of livestock spouting horns that span 15 feet.

There are gem shows, flower exhibits, cookie-baking contests and honey-making demonstrations. At last count, two honey queens and at least one honey princess will be on hand for this year’s exhibit.

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Plenty of stage performers also are scheduled to amuse, awe and otherwise entertain this year’s fair-goers. From square dancing and folk dancing to comedy shows and puppetry, the show biz fare will go on daily.

General admission for this year’s fair is $6.50 for adults, $5.50 for senior citizens and $3.50 for children 6 through 12. Tickets for parking, carnival rides, the Monorail, tram, pony rides and admission to some grandstand seats are extra.


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