03/14/2008 12:00AM

New series not instant success


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Bay Meadows' new Triple Play race series got only a mixed reaction from horsemen going into Sunday's first leg.

The series begins with a $10,000 claiming race at 1 1/16 miles. On April 13, the 1 1/8-mile second leg will be contested under starter allowance conditions for horses who started in the first leg, even if they were claimed in Sunday's first leg. The final race, on May 10, will be a starter allowance open to runners from the first two legs and contested at 1 1/4 miles.

With a $300 starting fee for Sunday's first leg, purses will be $18,000 for the first leg, $20,000 for the second leg, with the final round worth an estimated $62,000.

The Bay Meadows racing secretary, Tom Doutrich, was disappointed that only 16 horses entered the series and that he was only able to card two divisions.

"For this to work, we were hoping to have at least three heats in the first leg, because we know there will be some attrition," he said. "We didn't get any response from Southern California."

Doutrich envisioned at least 24 runners and hoped to have enough horses come back to fill two races for the second leg.

"The keys for trainers are the ability to run 1 1/4 miles and to stay sound to enter all three races," Doutrich said.

The first five finishers in the first two legs will receive points on a 5-4-3-2-1 scale to determine starters in the third race, although it seems unlikely more than 12 would enter the final 1 1/4-mile race.

"Some people thought because of the purse structure, we might see some horses dropping down, but that didn't happen," said Doutrich.

The first of Sunday's two heats appears stronger, with Newton John, who has won two straight, Johnny the Watch, whose four-race winning streak was snapped in his last start, and three last-race winners: Sidepocket Cat, Fantastic Event, and Gustavo.

Newton John, one of four horses in the first leg to be claimed in his last start, is now in the barn of leading trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. He placed in a Grade 3 stakes at Hastings last fall.

Bonk, who won three races last year and Secure Risk, a distant third against better last time, are contenders in the second heat.