A total of 452,746 fairgoers poured through the gates of the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton during its 18-day run that ended Sunday, setting a new attendance record for the 99th year of the event.
April Mitchell, manager of event sales and marketing, said attendance was up 8% over last year and was well above the record attendance of 434,919 set in 2009.
The Alameda County Fair is ranked as the 41st largest fair in the country and is the largest public event in the East Bay.
Record attendance also drove record-high food sales and Butler Amusements, the fair's carnival ride operator, also had its best year.
This year's horse racing also was a success.
Rick Pickering, the fair's chief executive, said that by not racing on Wednesdays, the fair was able to provide larger fields of horses on Thursdays through Sundays, resulting in a 9% increase in average daily wagers, "bucking the national trend of double digit decreases."
Due to a shortage of thoroughbred horses in California, the fair strategically reduced the number of mid-week race days this summer, in an effort to have more horses available for the weekend crowds. This strategy worked for the Alameda County fair, Pickering said, with the average daily amount wagered increasing by 9%.
Although the fair reduced its number of race days in 2011 by 13% (13 race days in 2011, compared to 15 race days in 2010), the overall amount wagered was only 5.5% less than in 2010, at a time when racing across the country has experienced upwards of 10% decreases, Pickering added.
In addition, special promotions included 99¢ Wacky Wednesdays, 99¢ Carnival Ride Day and 99¢ Bites of the World's Largest Hamburger. The fair's food drive resulted in more than $15,000 of food buying power and 26,230 pounds of donated food for the Alameda County Community Food Bank.
"We want to thank the almost half-a-million guests who came out to play at the record breaking Alameda County Fair these past three weeks," Pickering said. "As a nonprofit organization that receives no tax support, we are pleased to provide our many communities with local affordable 'edu-tainment.' Recognizing this difficult economy, we are honored that so many people chose to invest their time with family and friends at the fair this summer."
New attractions and events at this year's fair included the preparation of a 777-pound hamburger with all the trimmings that Guinness is being asked to verify as the world's largest-ever commercially available hamburger.
Concerts also drew huge crowds with performances by the Charlie Daniels Band, Tower of Power, Tenth Avenue North, Blue Oyster Cult, Whispers and Tracy Lawrence filled to capacity.
Other popular attractions were the fair's AgVenture Park, Festival Square's themed weekends: "Spice of India," "Made in America," and "Mexican Heritage Celebration." Other highlights of the Festival Square included the Samosa Rolling Contest, Hot Dog Relay Contest, BBQ Rib Contest and the Tamale Contest.
A variety of dance lessons, cooking tips, cultural music, competitive food-judging presentations and demonstrations rounded out the fair's potpourri of offerings.
"Competitive exhibits, animals and agricultural elements of our fair continue to be crowd favorites," Pickering said. "We also saved the lives of more than 100 dogs by adopting them out to caring fair families."
He said the dogs had previously been scheduled to be euthanized and were featured at the award-winning Puppy Party Palooza attraction.
By the time of the fair's closing Sunday night, the total number of competitive exhibits stood at 16,938, up 1% from a year ago; exhibitors, 4,228, down slightly at 0.8%; receipts from the Junior Livestock auction, $567,231, up 12.2%; small animal sales, $29,484, up 16.8% (with a single-day sales record set on closing day July 10), and fine art sales, $8,815, up 0.8%.
As for the consumption of traditional fair cuisine, corn dogs led the list with a total of 91,414 consumed; funnel cakes, 29,834; shaved ices, 14,963; turkey legs, 7,559; cinnamon rolls, 5,297; deep fried Oreos, 3,791, and scorpions, 1,546 consumed. In addition, nearly 500 pounds of alligator meat was consumed.
Pickering said that in addition to being one of the Top 50 Fairs in North America, as determined by Carnival Warehouse and Venues Today, the Alameda County Fair has received more industry awards than any other fair in the U.S. and Canada consecutively over the past five years.
Plans are now under way for the 100th Alameda County Fair in 2012.
For more information, visit www.AlamedaCountyFair.com, or call (925) 426-7600. A complete list of the competitive entry winners will be posted on the fair's web site by month's end.