03/13/2003 12:00AM

Full fields for opening day card


NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - Thistledown begins its 187-day racing season on Saturday, and will partner again with Beulah Park in a 7&7 racing format. The two tracks alternate their live races, with each track carding seven races a day. The season will be divided into four meetings: the 21-day Summit, the 50-day Thistledown, the 47-day Randall, and the 48-day Cranwood meet.

Director of racing and racing secretary Bill Couch said that there are approximately 800 horses on the grounds, and he is expecting more to arrive each day now that the severe winter weather has begun easing up.

Trainers stormed the entry box for opening day, eager to run their horses after numerous weather-related cancellations in the Midwest. There were 94 horses entered for Saturday; six races drew full 12-horse fields, and three of those have also-eligibles.

Three trainers with large stables who will participate here this meet are Jerry Hollendorfer, Gary Johnson, and Dale Baird. Between them they entered 17 horses on opening day.

Top northern California trainer Hollendorfer, who grew up in nearby Bath, Ohio, has 42 horses stabled here under the care of assistant trainer Tom Roberts. This is the third time that Hollendorfer has sent a division of horses here, his first two ventures meeting with success. He has five horses entered on opening day. Apprentice Belan Quinonez, who comes here from California, will do the riding.

Johnson, who dominated the trainer standing here for the past six years, is back with 50 horses, and was the most active trainer at the entry box, with seven runners entered on opening day.

Baird will ship in five horses Saturday from his base at Mountaineer Park.

The centerpiece of the season is the 69th running of the Grade 3, $300,000 Ohio Derby, which will be held at 1 1/8 miles on June 21. In all, 21 stakes will be run during the season, with 18 of them restricted to Ohio-bred horses.

Mike Rowland is back and will try to add to his all-time leading total of 28 meet riding titles. The strong riding colony also includes meet winners Scott Spieth, Luis Gonzalez, and Julio Felix. Felix has been the state's leading stakes-winning jockey here for the past four years.

Also returning are Jeffrey Skerrett, Ricky Feliciano, Lyndon Hannigan, and Jane Magrell, Thistledown's all-time winningest female rider.