11/08/2004 1:00AM

Opening-day stakes race doesn't fill

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ALBANY, Calif. - New racing secretary Sean Greely received a rude introduction to racing reality in northern California for his opening-day card at Golden Gate Fields on Wednesday.

Plans to open the meeting with a stakes race had to be altered when not enough older fillies and mares entered the Star Ball Handicap, forcing the race to be postponed.

"We'll try to bring it back Sunday and close nominations Thursday at noon," Greely said after receiving only eight nominees, including one supplemental addition. He said he wasn't surprised when the race had to be postponed.

"If we can make it, we'll run Sunday," he said. "If not, we'll work it into a time slot later. I don't want our better horses to ship out of town to run."

Wednesday's opening-day card and Thursday's card both attracted 69 runners.

Under northern California's new race schedule, geared in part to spread wet-weather dates between Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows, Golden Gate's usual 100-plus-day meeting was cut to 58 days. Racing will return to Golden Gate Fields again for a meet May 11 to June 19 and an earlier meet next fall, which begins Oct. 19.

Compared to a similar period last year, Golden Gate will offer two fewer stakes and $145,000 less in stakes purses.

Dropped from last year's stakes schedule were the Albany, a six-furlong open race; the Camilla Urso, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares; and the Miss California, a six-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies. Added this year is the Moment to Buy Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies scheduled for Saturday. The Orinda, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares, will be run as the Richmond this year.

Stakes purses decreased because overnight handicaps are worth $50,000-added, rather than $60,000-added. One other race, the Gold Rush at one mile for 2-year-olds, saw its purse dropped from $75,000 to $50,000.

Greely said he believes the horse population will allow him to fill races well as the meet gets rolling.

"We have a lot of unraced horses that will be first-time starters," he said. "We also have some winners that are making comebacks. The transition [from Bay Meadows to Golden Gate Fields] will have an effect, but, after a week or two, we'll get more flow."

Greely has raised the bottom level one notch, from $3,200 to $4,000.