03/05/2004 12:00AM

GM looks for happy ending to meet

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ALBANY, Calif. - The general manager of Golden Gate Fields, Michael Scalzo, said he is confident the track can close out its current meeting with a bang.

"Hopefully, with good weather, a strong stakes schedule, and getting back on the turf course, we will finish strong," he said.

The month of March is off to a good start. Santa Anita's big pick six carryover on Wednesday spurred the handle here, with an increase of 54 percent from the corresponding date a week ago. On Saturday, Santa Anita scheduled a $1 million-guaranteed pick six for Santa Anita Handicap Day, in addition to the Magna 5 wager, which has been growing in popularity locally.

Next weekend will be key, with the meeting's two premier stakes, the Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby on Saturday and the Grade 3, $150,000 Golden Gate Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sunday. The El Camino drew 33 nominees and the Golden Gate 15.

"I get excited about the El Camino and Golden Gate," Scalzo said. "Those are two we really push for. Even though we're running them back to back, we've made a real push marketing-wise."

Skipaslew, winner of the Gold Rush and Golden Gate Derby here, heads the nominees for the El Camino. Trainer Doug O'Neill is looking at the Illinois Derby after the El Camino for Skipaslew.

O.K. Mikie, second in the Golden Gate Derby before winning the Golden State Mile, and the talented filly Wildwood Flower top the local nominees to the El Camino.

Seattle Borders, winner of the Baldwin Stakes at Santa Anita, and the Turf Paradise Derby winner, Mambo Train, are also nominated to the El Camino.

Wixoe Express, winner of the Tanforan Handicap; Devious Boy, winner of last fall's Oak Tree Derby; Grade 1 winner Ringaskiddy; and the Bobby Frankel-trained entry of Epicenter and Royal Gem top the nominees for the Golden Gate at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Overall handle at the meet is down 3 percent, much of that coming from a decline in out-of-state handle.

But with good weather the rest of the way and the resumption of racing on the turf course with its fuller fields, the overall decrease in handle shouldn't be too bad.

Claiming sprint tops card

A first-level allowance sprint featuring tough claimers moving up highlights Sunday's Golden Gate Fields card.

Moonlight Storm, who has won three straight races while climbing the class ladder, will meet track record-holder Smoke Till Dawn in the six-furlong race.

Moonlight Storm opened a big lead and held on to win by a nose in a $20,000 claimer in his last start. He had earlier won for $8,000 and $12,500. He is probably the quickest in the field but doesn't need the lead to win.

Smoke Till Dawn capped a four-race win streak by setting a track record on Dec. 17. He was fourth as the odds-on choice against stakes-winning Beyond Brilliant in his last start.

* A horsemen's party to benefit Golden Gate's new equine hospital will be held following racing Sunday at the Clipper Club in the nearby Watergate Apartments. Admission is $20 with catering, live music, open barn, and various limited-edition prints by Fred Stone, Tom Chapman, and Christine Picovet to be auctioned. For information, contact Jenny Scullin in the racing office.