- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 20, 2009

DOSWELL, Va. | The State Fair of Virginia has left behind the roar of Richmond International Raceway for the pastoral acres where Triple Crown winner Secretariat was born and first tested his coltish legs.

The 155th edition of the fair begins its 11-day run Thursday at its new home, the Meadow Event Park, about 20 miles north of Richmond. The move up Interstate 95 puts nearly 700,000 more people within a 60-mile radius, the area in which most fairs capture the majority of their visitors.

The fair, which is operated by a nonprofit, purchased the Meadow Farm property in 2003 for $5.3 million. The Secretariat connection is evident throughout the 360 acres, which are bordered by more than 2 miles of white fence and reminders of its history as a premier horse-breeding farm.

Secretariat’s foaling shed has been preserved, and accents of the thoroughbred’s blue racing colors are all around - from the cavernous Farm Bureau Center to remnants of Meadow Farm, including a stallion barn.

“It’s amazing, to get that location,” said Jim Tucker, president and chief executive of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. “The home of the legendary horse of all time.” Some consider the big chestnut colt the best racehorse ever.

Mindful of that history, fair organizers have expanded equine attractions at the new Doswell home to include a 143-stall barn and four lighted show rings. At the previous site, the fair had to sacrifice some equine facilities and had only one show ring.

The fair’s inaugural edition was first held in 1854 at Monroe Park, now a treed oasis among the ever-expanding Virginia Commonwealth University campus in Richmond. It moved to two other Richmond locations before settling in 1946 at the raceway complex, a natural alliance.

“While historically auto racing and fairgrounds went together, as NASCAR grew it created an incompatible situation because of NASCAR’s needs,” said Curry Roberts, president of State Fair of Virginia Inc.

The Caroline County location provides 5,000 more parking spaces, a freshly paved road leading to the fair grounds, and a lot more green.

“This site has a very pastoral appearance,” said Mr. Roberts, a Virginia Tech graduate who grew up in Bedford County. “What you see when you come up is a lot of grass, pastures, fencing - a far more park-like setting.”

Mr. Tucker said fair attendance has been up this year, as the events provide the kind of bargains families are seeking in the moribund economy.

“Fairs are just a really good value,” Mr. Tucker said. “You can go to a state fair or a county fair at the same price as a movie and see a lot of things. I think the public is really looking for a good value, and fairs continue to be a good value.”

As for the Virginia fair, he said it will probably lure visitors curious about the new location.

The new site offers an incongruous skyline: the Eiffel Tower - a replica, of course, at nearby Kings Dominion.

Workers were busy recently at the site, raising red-and-white-striped tents, seeding bare patches of soil, framing new buildings and policing the grounds before an estimated quarter-million people flock to it for the fair’s run.

The fair will, of course, feature a full course of agricultural attractions, such as tractor pulls in a gouged-out trough near the 63,500-square-foot Farm Bureau Center, racing pigs, daredevil dogs, a dairy cattle birthing center and free performances at the Festival Stage. Performers include Plain White T’s, soul crooner Percy Sledge and the Praise Polooza Gospel Show.

Greg Hicks of the Virginia Farm Bureau said the new location has stoked a “sense of excitement” within the agricultural community.

“It’s also a chance to show-and-tell to the urban public,” he said. “When an urban child can see a calf being born or a cow milked, that’s a great education.”

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