03/17/2008 11:00PM

Claim box overflows for 3-race series

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Necessity being the mother of invention, Bay Meadows clerk of scales Paul Nicolo found an innovative way to handle a large number of claims in Sunday's first leg of the Triple Play Series, a three-race series that offers inflated purses for claiming horses.

Horses in the 1 1/16-mile first leg ran for a $10,000 claiming price and an $18,000 purse. The next two races in the series are claim-exempt. Only horses that competed in the first race are eligible for the second race, which will be run at 1 1/8 miles on April 13 for a purse of $20,000. The series finale at 1 1/4 miles, which offers a pot that could reach $60,000, will be run May 10 and is open to runners that competed in the first two legs.

The first leg of the series was run in two divisions Sunday. There were 36 claims in for fourth-place finisher Newton John in the first division and 25 for the winner, Iron Duke. Five claims were put in for third-place Afternoon Express and one for sixth-place Fantastic Event.

There was a 12-way shake for fourth-place finisher Sanfran in the second division, with eight putting in claims for third-place Bonk and one for second-place Secure Risk.

When more than one claim is filed for a horse, numbered pills representing each of the interests are placed in a bottle, and the new owner is determined by randomly pulling a pill out of the bottle.

There were more than 50 owners and trainers crowding around Nicolo in the winner's circle waiting for the outcome of the shake after the first race.

"We knew there would be a lot of claims in for those horses," Nicolo said. "I had 50 pills ready."

Nicolo's usual container would not hold that many numbered pills, so he got an old martini shaker and removed the screen that prevents ice from coming out of the pour spout.

Ricardo Perez won the shake for Newton John, Mark Rheinford the shake for Iron Duke, and Roger Hansen the shake for Afternoon Express. Rene Amescua was the only trainer who dropped a tag for Fantastic Event.

Hansen, who must have had a rabbit's foot in his pocket, won the 12-way shake for Sanfran, who like Afternoon Express was taken by owner Kjell Qvale. Steve Sherman won the shake for Bonk, with Billy Morey claiming Secure Risk.

"We had owners here I hadn't seen in years," said Bay Meadows director of racing Richard Lewis. "When was the last time Kjell Qvale claimed two horses in one day? We had nearly 90 claims for two races."

Lewis and Bay Meadows racing secretary Tom Doutrich had hoped to fill at least three races in the first leg. But only 16 horses were entered, and three were scratched.

Rheinford said the extra money the series offers prompted him to claim Iron Duke.

"That's a jackpot if you hit it," Rheinford said, adding he had already been offered $25,000 for Iron Duke. "It's worth the gamble. It definitely adds intrigue when you have this series."

Bonfante eyes California Turf Sprint

Bonfante came out of his victory in Saturday's Bay Meadows Sprint in good shape, owner Lewis Figone said, and is likely to return to Bay Meadows to run in the $100,000 California Turf Sprint for Cal-breds at five furlongs on the turf on April 4. There he could meet Tribesman, who ran fourth and last in the Bay Meadows Sprint.

Tribesman came out of the race tired, said trainer Roger Hansen, and it's no wonder. Tribesman and Vicarino, the two favorites in the Bay Meadows Sprint, hooked up in a torrid duel from the start. When they tired, Bonfante flew past them.

Several principals in the race said they saw it coming. Chad Schvaneveldt, Tribesman's jockey, said he told his wife the night before that he could envision Bonfante winning after a pace battle. Hansen said he told his wife the same thing.

Said Hansen: "Horses need a breather at some point, and neither one got one, but that's a good horse that won."

Trainer Greg Gilchrist said that his horse, Vicarino, had no choice but to hook up with Tribesman.

"We wanted to stalk, but we outbroke him and had to take the lead at that point," he said. "Tribesman had won five in a row, and nobody had tested him. It's hard to give him two or three lengths and catch him. We weren't going to give him that much.

"Bonfante was the best horse that day. Give him credit."

Now Victory, Bold Chieftain top stakes

Seven runners entered Saturday's $55,000 March Madness Handicap at one mile on the turf, including Now Victory and Bold Chieftain, who are the 122-pound highweights. Now Victory starts from post 3 post and Bold Chieftain post 7.

Also entered are El Don, winner of the 2005 California Turf Championship here; the multiple stakes winner Stratham, who just returned after a 20-month layoff; stakes winners Pass the Heat and Putmeinyourwill; and the multiple-stakes-placed Macduff.

* Bay Meadows had planned to dump a mountain of snow in the infield for kids to play in back in February, but the promotion was postponed because of rain. It has been rescheduled for Sunday.

* Jockey Jorge Ayarza has been suspended for five days, beginning this Sunday, for causing interference down the backstretch aboard Taylor County in last Saturday's sixth race.