03/29/2006 1:00AM

Entries dip for earlier opening card


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The 2006 Woodbine meeting, scheduled for 168 days, starts Saturday with a 10-race program beginning at the new post time of 1:10 p.m. Eastern.

A total of 89 horses, including three also-eligibles, were entered for the opening card, with all races at five or 5 1/2 furlongs.

On last year's opening 10-race program, which took place April 16, 108 horses were entered.

"I think we're down a little bit this year because we're starting earlier," said Steve Lym, Woodbine's racing secretary. "I know for a little while, a few weeks ago, there were some horses who missed some training due to the bad weather."

The backstretch opened on Feb. 13 this year, and 1,850 of the 2,050 stalls will be occupied by Saturday.

Saturday's feature will be the five-furlong allowance prep for the Jacques Cartier, which goes April 15 and will be the first of 101 stakes scheduled for the meeting.

A field of six will start in the $79,900 prep race, open to 4-year-olds and upward. The ninth race on the program, it is headed by Judiths Wild Rush, last year's Canadian sprint champion.

There also are two first-level allowance races, both at five furlongs.

In the fourth race, for 3-year-old fillies, the stakes-placed Like a Gem will face six rivals, while in the sixth race, for fillies and mares, Runaway Sunshine could prove the horse to beat in a field of eight.

The fourth and sixth races will be part of Woodbine Post Time, a two-hour live show that begins at 2 p.m. on the Sun television network.

Saturday's program also will see the debut of the 20-cent pick four, which will be offered on races 4 through 7 on the live card, and the official launch of wireless wagering, in which customers can use hand-held PC devices to wager directly into the pools via the Woodbine HorsePlayer Interactive website.

Racing will be conducted only on Saturdays and Sundays for the first two weeks. Fridays will be added April 14, with a full five-day-a-week schedule beginning in the first week of May. Closing day will be Dec. 3.

Woodbine, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, will undergo the most significant change in its history with the installation of Polytrack, an artificial racing surface, scheduled for July and August.

During that period, dirt racing here will be conducted on the seven-furlong Standardbred racetrack, which will be resurfaced with the existing main-track material.