04/26/2005 11:00PM

Especialista primed to claim series bonus

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - A successful experiment comes to an end Friday night at Bay Meadows, with $20,000 in bonuses up for grabs.

Friday's third race, a $6,250 starter allowance at 1 1/4 miles, is the final leg in the California Marketing Committee starter allowance series. The series was originally supposed to comprise three races, but so many horses were entered that the first two legs were each split into two divisions.

Horses who win a leg of the series earn 10 points, while second- through fifth-place finishers earn 7, 5, 3, and 2 points. A $10,000 bonus will be awarded to the winner of the series, while bonuses of $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000 go to the second-, third-, and fourth-place series finishers.

won divisions of the first two legs of the series, at one mile and 1 1/8 miles, earning 20 points in the process. He only has to place third on Friday to claim the $10,000 bonus.

Three other horses have a chance to win or share in the top bonus. Steeleon Season ran second to Especialista and second to Especialista's stablemate Destined to Win in the first two legs to earn 14 points. If Steeleon Season wins Friday and Especialista runs fourth or worse, Steeleon Season would get the bonus.

, who has 13 points with a fourth and a victory, also could win the series. Lakota, third and second behind Especialista in the first two races, has 12 points and could share the top spot if he wins and Especialista runs fifth or worse. Aly Rally rounds out the field.

"We'll do this again in the fall on the turf at a mile, 1 1/8 miles, and 1 3/8 miles," said racing secretary Tom Doutrich. "It takes time, but we got all three to go. We were able to split the first two legs, and the sponsor is willing to put money back into it."

Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Especialista and Destined to Win, said the series "created a lot of interest."

is the one to catch in Friday's race, and Especialista did just that in two legs of the series, stalking Lakota before going on by.

None of the five runners has tried 1 1/4 miles before, but Hollendorfer said he thinks both Especialista and Destined to Win should handle the distance.

Trainer Andy Mathis said he is hopeful that Steeleon Season will like the distance.

"There may be others better than him, but he tries hard," Mathis said. "Right now, he's the best he's ever been. I'm expecting a real big race out of him."