01/31/2005 1:00AM

71-day meet marks start of new era


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Bay Meadows opens a 71-day meet Wednesday with a new management team in place. The meet, which ends May 8, is the first under management of the Bay Meadows Land Company, which owns the track but for the last five years had leased it to Magna Entertainment.

Among the improvements made by new management is to spruce up the track. Televisions have been added throughout the plant, and the turf club has been recarpeted.

"When people see the things we've done, we hope they'll like them," said F. Jack Liebau, president of the newly formed Bay Meadows Racing Association.

The minimum figure on stakes has been raised $5,000 to $55,000, while recent increases on the lower end of overnight purses have been maintained.

The track has secured its first stakes sponsor - Maroevich, O'Shea, and Coghlan Insurance Services - which will sponsor the Woodside Handicap on April 2. The track will run a pair of 3-year-old sprint stakes late in the meet to promote racing charities the Winners' Foundation and the Gregson Foundation.

Spring can be a wet season in northern California, but the racing surface should remain kind to horses regardless of the weather. Mixed into the racing surface is material known as sports grids, which help the track keep its integrity in wet weather.

The Grade 3, $125,000 Seabiscuit Breeders' Cup Handicap on Saturday will highlight the opening week, which will also mark the return of Friday evening racing. The track will race Friday afternoons after this week until April, when night racing resumes.

The opening-day card drew 65 entrants for eight races, with the Dennis Patterson-trained uncoupled entry of Shadow of the Moon and Splashof Panache looking tough in the 1 1/16-mile allowance feature for 3-year-old fillies.

Splashof Panache looks as if she should be able to take the lead following a wire-to-wire victory while sprinting for $20,000.

Shadow of the Moon, freshened since winning her maiden by four lengths at this distance on Dec. 12, has worked consistently since at her home track here.

Once again, Jerry Hollendorfer and Russell Baze will be formidable. Hollendorfer won his 25th straight Golden Gate Fields training title at the meet that concluded Sunday. Baze, second on racing's all-time victory list, won his 26th Golden Gate riding title with 80 wins.