12/28/2007 1:00AM

Forty Niner kicks off meet

EmailALBANY, Calif. - The Golden Gate Fields 2007-08 winter-spring meet gets off to a good start Wednesday when the $75,000 Forty Niner Stakes matches a Grade 1 winner and the winner of a $1 million race. The 30-day meet runs through Feb. 3 and is really an extension of the Golden Gate fall meet, which opened Nov. 7 and closed Saturday.

The biggest change between the two meets is the racing schedule. Like Santa Anita, Golden Gate will race Thursdays through Mondays, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays dark. Previously, the track raced Wednesday through Sunday.

The 1 1/16-mile Forty Niner matches Siren Lure, who won the Grade 1 Triple Bend at Hollywood in summer 2006, and McCann's Mojave, who won the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic in January. Also in the field of eight 3-year-olds and up are Grade 3 winner Now Victory, who is coming off an impressive turf allowance win, the Grade 3 winner Bwana Bull, Putmeinyourwill, Pass the Heat, Norm's Nephew, and Amazin Blue.

Racing secretary Sean Greely said he expects the good races for older horses to be strong this meet.

"This is a strong category," he said.

The final two stakes are the highlights of the meet: the $150,000 California Derby on Jan. 27 and $100,000 California Oaks on Feb. 2. A pair of six-furlong stakes for 3-year-olds, the $50,000 Stinson Beach on Jan. 5 and the $50,000 Tiburon for fillies on Jan. 12, will give local trainers a sprint prep for the 1 1/16-mile California Derby and California Oaks.

"We've got some allowance races going long in the condition book as well to give trainers a chance to see if they want to try the derby or Oaks," Greely said.

Greely said the Golden Gate Fields Tapeta surface should help keep good 3-year-olds on the grounds during what can be a wet season in Northern California. The Tapeta surface was used for the first time during the fall meeting and received generally positive reviews.

"In the past, one thing that worked against us was the rainy weather," Greely said. "With the new Tapeta surface, rain will not be a factor now."

The track was hit with 2 inches of rain last week, and there were no problems, Golden Gate Fields general manager Robert Hartman said.

"We didn't miss a work," he said. "There were no issues. The track handled the weather like a champ. We haven't had one issue from a rain standpoint."

Wednesday's card had 97 entries, including also-eligibles, for nine races, an average of almost 11 per race. The fall meet averaged more than eight horses per race.