03/08/2009 11:00PM

Lady Railrider to have few foes

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ALBANY, Calif. - The $75,000 Work the Crowd, a 1 1/16-mile stakes for California-bred fillies and mares, could have as few as four starters when it is run Saturday at Golden Gate Fields. Lady Railrider, winner of the Sunshine Millions Distaff in January, is the likely favorite.

Only seven runners were nominated, and as of early in the week Lady Railrider had only three confirmed challengers, including her Steve Specht-trained stablemate Shes a Lucky Wager. Film Editor and You Lift Me Up also will run. Royal Heraldry, Kalookan Year, and Warren's Appeal were also nominated.

It will be Lady Railrider's first start since running third in the Campanile behind Victorina on Feb. 7. Victorina went to Florida over the weekend but was scratched from the Ocala Stakes on Sunday.

Specht said the Work the Crowd will serve as a prep for Lady Railrider for Gold Rush Day at Hollywood Park in April.

He said he's running Shes a Lucky Wager as well because allowance races haven't filled for her.

Seven-race card on Thursday

On Thursday, Golden Gate will run only seven races.

Racing secretary Sean Greely said he is fighting through a period of low horse population with an exodus of horses back to the Northwest and Canada. He hopes to add to the population with horses from Arizona, and the start of 2-year-old racing later this spring should help, as should the opening of the turf course near the end of the month.

Thursday's card includes a one-mile maiden race for 3-year-olds, several of whom have been nominated to the Triple Crown. Among them is the first-timer Illusive, a half-brother to Gradeo1 San Juan Capistrano winner Ringaskiddy.

"We've been able to card some races with some character on our midweek cards," Greely said.

Trainer O.J. Jauregui has opted not to send Merus Miami to the Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday. The stakes-winning colt scratched from the El Camino Real Derby with a minor right front foot problem, said Jauregui, and he's still trying to get the foot "100 percent right."

A Friends Lake colt, Merus Miami won his first two starts, including the Gold Rush Stakes, and ran third behind Chocolate Candy in the California Derby. Merus Miami worked seven furlongs in 1:28.40 on March 1, and Jauregui said, "I just thought he could have done better."

"I like him, but I still don't think we've seen his peak," the trainer said. "I'd like to be going, but there are a lot of races, and we want to win some nice stakes with him. It's just the way I see it. We have got to wait. I'm doing what I think is right, but you will see us again soon."

* With Russell Baze riding at Santa Anita on Saturday, Roberto Gonzalez rode four winners. Baze opened the week here Wednesday with a riding triple and ended it Sunday the same way.

* Bob "Big Man" McGrath, 79, a former trainer and racing official, died of heart failure in his Hayward, Calif., home Sunday. A native of Oakland, he followed in his father Robert's footsteps, training horses from 1962-92, including Karandebs Big Kat. He worked in the racing office and served as a placing judge, patrol judge, and assistant clerk of scales after his training career.

* Saturday will be Irish Heritage Day, with Irish dancers, an Irish-inspired turf club buffet, and a giveaway of mugs that light up.