11/03/2003 12:00AM

More horses may mean fuller fields

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ALBANY, Calif. - Golden Gate Fields opens a 109-day meeting Wednesday with a great deal of optimism thanks to an increased horse population in northern California.

"We had about 1,400 or 1,500 horses when we started Bay Meadows in late August," said Tom Doutrich, Golden Gate's racing secretary. "We now have between 1,800 and 1,900."

There are also more horses on the grounds at Golden Gate Fields than Bay Meadows simply because the barn area is bigger.

Filling races is becoming a problem throughout California, and Golden Gate will strive for fuller fields with the consolidation and elimination of some racing categories, as well as a limited starter-allowance program that Doutrich hopes will spur participation in the claiming ranks.

He hopes that program will also stimulate more owners to claim horses.

Doutrich is also hoping to beef up the program for younger horses, and added $15,000 to the purse of the Golden State Mile for 3-year-olds - now worth $75,000-added - the only stakes at the meet to have its purse raised. Four stakes have been eliminated. The stakes program is worth $2,080,000.

Although the Tanforan Handicap lost its Grade 3 status, Golden Gate will offer five Grade 3 races, topped by the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby on March 13.

That will be a big weekend for Golden Gate Fields with the meet's second-biggest stakes, the $150,000 Golden Gate Breeders' Cup Handicap, being offered the next day.

Other graded stakes are the Golden Gate Derby on Jan. 10, the Brown Bess Handicap on Jan. 31, and Berkeley Handicap on March 27. Each has a purse of $100,000.

Two $100,000 races for California-breds will also be offered: the Work the Crowd for fillies and mares at one mile on Jan. 3 and the Ken Maddy Sprint at six furlongs on Feb. 21.

Wednesday's opening-day card includes three horses of note, each trying to extend a winning streak.

Heat of the Moment, a 3-year-old filly who has moved up the claiming ranks with five straight wins, puts her streak on the line in the day's feature, a $50,000 optional claimer for fillies and mares at six furlongs. She appears to have the most speed in the race.

The versatile Long Point carries a four-race winning streak into a $4,000 claimer at one mile.

Don't Ignore Her goes for her seventh straight victory in the nightcap, a six-furlong $6,250 claiming sprint for fillies and mares.