04/04/2004 11:00PM

Meet brings on the 2-year-olds

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Bay Meadows general manager Bernie Thurman might call herself "cautiously optimistic" as a 55-day meeting opens at Bay Meadows on Wednesday, but she sounds far more upbeat than cautious.

While full fields remain a long-range goal, Thurman and racing secretary Tom Doutrich are encouraged by the fact that Washington-based horsemen are leaving some horses in northern California despite the start of the Emerald Downs meeting near Seattle.

Thurman said that several trainers have indicated they will send runners from Arizona as well.

The addition of horses from Arizona plus some Washington-based horses staying here will help alleviate a diminishing horse population, as will the start of 2-year-old racing.

In fact, Bay Meadows has added a 2-year-old stakes to its spring meet calendar at the request of horsemen.

Purse cuts announced earlier this year during the Golden Gate Fields meeting affect both the overnight and stakes programs at Bay Meadows, and one fewer stakes will be run this year. But the cuts were made with an eye toward not having to lower purses again in northern California.

Thurman doesn't foresee further cuts. "We still have to keep an eye on the numbers, but out-of-state is where we got hurt earlier this year," she said. "Bay Meadows is not nearly as dependent on out-of-state [handle]."

To help with out-of-state simulcasting, Bay Meadows has installed a new toteboard that can handle 14 entrants. That will allow 14 horses to be entered in races and the program numbers to remain constant even with scratches.

There are good vibes for proponents of horse racing at Bay Meadows over a recent statement given to the California Horse Racing Board by Terry Fancher, executive managing director of Stockbridge Real Estate Investment Fund, which owns the land at Bay Meadows. Stockbridge is pursuing the legal permission required to use the land for purposes other than racing, and that process will take at least three years, Fancher said at the CHRB meeting.

"We can focus on the racing business now," Thurman said. "That was big news for our customers and big news for our employees. We were getting an amazing number of calls asking if we were still in business."

Thurman said Bay Meadows continues to make capital improvements. New televisions have been installed throughout the plant. Heaters and new carpets have been added.

A silver picture frame for the traditional winner's circle photo after every race will be given to each winning owner.