11/05/2001 1:00AM

On the cusp of a new era


Golden Gate Fields opens its doors Wednesday for a 101-day meet, featuring 30 stakes races, including the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby on March 9, one of 11 stakes worth six-figures scheduled at the northern California stand,.

With a few exceptions, racing will be conducted Wednesdays through Sundays, with a 12:45 p.m. Pacific first post.

Special Monday cards are scheduled for Dec. 17, Dec. 31, Jan. 21, and Feb. 18. Earlier posts are on tap for Nov. 22, Dec. 26, Feb. 2, Feb. 3, and March 2.

Stretching into 2002, the Golden Gate meet will also usher in a new era in northern California racing, as account wagering is set to become legal in the state Jan. 1. It is not yet clear what strategy Golden Gate Fields will take to capitalize on the new law, but officials for its parent company, Magna Entertainment, said on Monday that they expected to at least begin taking wagers from California residents through the company's Pennsylvania-based Call-A-Bet operation at the beginning of the year.

On the racetrack, the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at 1 1/16 miles has had a significant impact upon the Triple Crown in its 20 runnings. Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year Charismatic was the runner-up in the 1999 El Camino Real Derby. Five Preakness winners - Charismatic, Tabasco Cat, Snow Chief, Tank's Prospect, and Gate Dancer - all ran in the El Camino Real Derby. Tabasco Cat also won the Belmont Stakes in 1994.

Some of the other six-figure stakes on the Golden Gate Fields calendar are the $200,000 Golden Gate Breeders' Cup (March 16); $125,000 Golden Gate Derby (Jan. 12); $100,000 Tanforan Handicap (Feb. 9); $100,000 Forty Niner Handicap (Nov. 23); $100,000 Lafayette Handicap (Jan. 1), and the $100,000 Brown Bess Handicap (Feb. 2).

Wednesday's feature race is a $25,000 claimer. Six 3-year-old fillies are entered in the six-furlong race, which carries a $27,000 purse. Trainer Lonnie Arterburn has the horse to beat in Distinct Dispersal, who drops back against claimers after a fifth and a third in a pair of starter allowances.

Distinct Dispersal's main competition figures to come from Mango Dancer and Michelle's Cap, who are both coming off good efforts at Bay Meadows on Oct. 10. Michelle's Cap, a three-time winner this year, was disqualified that day for interference and placed fifth. Mango Dancer, the runner-up, was awarded the victory.

- additional reporting by Matt Hegarty