12/22/2010 1:14PM

Early 3-year-old stakes boost Golden Gate meet

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For the second year in a row, the Golden Gate Fields winter-spring meeting will begin without a stakes on the card. The $50,000 Silveyville was canceled when only three runners were entered. But with several major 3-year-old stakes coming up early in the meeting, Golden Gate fans and bettors have plenty to look forward to.

Among the highlights of the 104-day meeting, which runs through June 12, are the $100,000 California Oaks on New Year’s Day, the $100,000 California Derby on Jan. 15, and the Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 12.

“We’re looking forward to our 3-year-old series,” Golden Gate general manager Robert Hartman said.

The California Oaks and El Camino Real Derby are part of the MI Developments bonus promotions – the Preakness 5.5 and the Black-Eyed Susan 2.2 – which gives 3-year-olds who win designated races at MID tracks an opportunity to compete for bonus money in the Preakness ($5.5 million) or Black-Eyed Susan ($2.2 million).

“It’s something new, and it has created excitement,” said Hartman, noting that seven Southern California-based fillies that were nominated to the California Oaks.

Although the stakes schedule stresses 3-year-olds early in the meet, older horses will get their chance in the Grade 3 San Francisco Mile on the turf April 30 and the Grade 3 Berkeley at 1 1/16 miles on the main track May 30.

Golden Gate Fields will be the lone track in the state this winter to be running with a synthetic track now that Santa Anita has installed a new dirt surface. Hartman is hopeful that the opportunity to run on the Tapeta surface will lure some Southern California horses north.

“Clearly, some horses take to synthetic surfaces better than dirt,” he said. “If there are some Southern California horses for which that is true, I can see them shipping up here.

“But the reverse may also be true,” he said. “It will be nice for trainers to have two different options.”

Golden Gate Fields will run five days during the first full week of the met and then will revert to a four-day, Thursday-Sunday schedule until May, when Wednesdays will be added again. Hartman said the decision to run mostly four-day weeks was based on the still-diminished Northern California horse population as well as the planned four-day weeks at Santa Anita.

The track has several promotions scheduled, including $1 admission and parking on Sundays as well as on both days of the New Year’s weekend. A calendar celebrating Golden Gate’s 70th year anniversary will be handed out opening day.