It's Fair time starting July 1 and once again hundreds are signing up for Kay's Ladies' Day at the Races, scheduled this year for post time at 12:15 p.m. Friday, July 10 at the Alameda County Fair. Organized by Kay Huff in 1992, it's become one of the fair's best "fun" raisers at the fairgrounds each year and, for many of the women who join in, their first time to a racetrack.
Active in the Walnut Grove Elementary School's parent group when her two sons were in primary grades, Kay talked several friends into spending a day at the fair. They ran into other friends and the eight of them decided to try their luck at the races. They placed a couple of bets based on horses that looked good or a jockey's shirt color they liked, won a few dollars on their hunches and ended up having a thoroughly fun afternoon. "Let's do it again next year," one friend told Kay, and then others, who had heard about the day at the races, asked to be invited if she ever does it again. She did and the next year, in 1993, there were 23 following Kay into the grandstands. That number has grown every year.
Those were the days when snail mail and conventional phone calls ruled, adding to Kay's already busy summer schedule as a soccer and baseball mom and helping her husband and local architect Charles Huff at his office in the old train station building downtown. Active in the American Association of University Women, the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, Kay, like Charles, keeps busy on the civic and social circuits, ranging from the Museum On Main to downtown booster groups. As women in these groups learned about Ladies' Day at the Races, they, too, signed up and the event has become one of the fair's most popular. With the advent of email, Kay was able to expand her outreach even farther with more than 650 on this year's list, including a number who were children when their mothers first joined Kay at the races.
On race day, everyone is there for the obligatory photo at 2:30 p.m. Kay always shares her growing and updated album of photos from earlier years, an album that now has 30 pages. The ages of those participating range from the late 80s to 20-somethings and, this year, two who are very young: a six-week-old girl and a boy born just last Wednesday. Along with the album portrait, the ladies also pose holding a copy of the Pleasanton Weekly for a traditional photo we publish later in our newspaper. These photos are part of the emailed invitation to this year's event. Two years ago, a photographer from one of the daily newspapers tried to get a picture, but she grew frustrated as the ladies held up their Weeklies every time she started to shoot. After a few pleas, she finally got her picture.
Even though the ladies aren't yet writers for the Racing Sheet, quite a few have parlayed their once first-time walks up to the betting windows into winnings, one pulling in $300 and another last year with $200. Even ethnic pride has its pull, with Huff Ladies whose maiden names are Klinglehoffer, Hufnagel, Spielvogel, Rominger and Stuhlmuller betting on a German-named horse. It won. Another time, the three Kays--Kay Huff, Kay Ayala and Kay Daniels--bet on a horse named "K is Slick." It came in first. Learning that Russell Baze, considered a top jockey, was riding in a trifecta with two other longshots, Kay Huff felt good vibes and plunked down $12. She won $610. Another woman, dressed in orange, bet on a horse whose jockey was also wearing orange. She didn't win. This year, Bernie Billen of Valley Community Bank, who'll be in Texas and Oklahoma during Kay's Ladies' Day at the Races, has asked that bets be placed in her name on any horse or jockey who is from one of those states or has raced there. Quite a few, admitting to having fun watching the races, have become regulars at the track during its limited season of horseracing in Pleasanton.
Kay says that no one joins her group to win at the track, although many think she's now the handicap expert and seek her advice when it comes to betting. Most come, though, armed with binoculars, newspaper racing statistics and tip sheets from barkers out front. They always bring along extra spending money for the fairgrounds parties that follow the races, including an evening at the fair concert.