09/04/2002 11:00PM

Autumn Leaves falls by wayside

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Saturday's scheduled running of the $60,000-added Autumn Leaves Handicap at Bay Meadows has been postponed.

Only four of the eight nominated fillies and mares entered the one-mile race on the main track. Since the race is an overnight handicap, Bay Meadows has the option of not running if too few horses enter.

But racing secretary Greg Brent said the race will be rescheduled for later in the meet, although a date has not been set.

Nominations for the race were taken Wednesday, a day before horses were to be entered. "You figure since they nominated they would run," Brent said.

Two of the nominated horses were from Southern California, and Brent said that it has traditionally been harder to get trainers to ship to northern California from Del Mar than from Santa Anita or Hollywood Park.

In addition, there have been a number of horses ill with a mild virus that has been making its rounds of the barns. One nominee was not entered because she was still suffering from the virus.

Brent had been hopeful that a revised stakes schedule for Bay Meadows would help increase entries.

"Much of it was based on trainers' requests," he said.

The Autumn Leaves was one example.

In 2001, there were no stakes routes on the main track for fillies and mares after the Luther Burbank at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa in early August.

The Autumn Leaves was written to help fill that void, and Bay Meadows trimmed back the number of stakes written for the turf.

Brent had mixed emotions about cutting back the number of turf stakes but did so because the local horse population seemed better suited to dirt racing.

An additional $5,000 was added to overnight handicap stakes this year, lifting the purses to $60,000. With an additional $18,000 available in Cal-bred bonuses, the races can be worth $78,000.

"Normally, you'd write allowance purses for this category," Brent said.

"By making them overnights, you seem to have more ability to fill them. Owners get a chance at black type, and the purses are much bigger."

As disappointed as he is by Saturday's postponement, Brent believes things will improve shortly with an influx of Washington-based horses and word that several other barns plan to return to Bay Meadows.

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