08/12/2002 12:00AM

Purses get boost in north


SAN MATEO, Calif. - The first thing Jim Ghidella, director of the Thoroughbred Owners of California for Northern California, did after his organization approved Bay Meadows's and Golden Gate Fields's stakes schedule and purse structure was buy a filly at the Del Mar yearling sale.

"I'm very optimistic about racing," Ghidella said. "I have a real feeling we've done a good thing for northern California. This is probably the best thing for Northern California since I've been associated with the TOC."

The new purse schedule has raised minimum purses from $7,000 to $9,000. Purses for overnight stakes have been raised from $55,000 to $60,000. For owners, such as Ghidella, who have California-breds, bonuses for statebreds will push purses up to $78,000.

The change is most significant at at the lower end. Purses have been raised $2,000 for bottom-level claiming races of $3,200 for winners.

Purses for all claimers running for prices of $8,000 or less have been raised between $1,000 and $2,000.

Purses for bottom-level $8,000 maiden claimers have been raised $1,500 with an additional $500 in purses for $12,500 maiden claimers.

In addition, first-level allowance races and optional claimers from $25,000 to $50,000 (nonwinners of 2) have had purses boosted by $1,000.

"Everybody agrees with the purse schedule," Jack Liebau, president and general manager of Bay Meadows, said. "We've met with the trainers, and it was enthusiastically received.

"Anybody who buys a horse thinks that horse will be a champion, but a lot end up in maiden claiming races and claiming ranks. With today's rising costs, these are the people we have to take care of. We have to make the business more economically viable. Unless we raises the purses at the bottom, it doesn't do much."

Ghidella said the increases will offer "some reason to keep training lower-end horses" and could increase the horse population and lead to fuller fields.

The stakes schedule has been altered to bring better balance to each division. Stakes money will account for only 7 percent of total purses, not counting overnight stakes, which can be cancelled if there is a lack of entries.

Liebau said an attempt was made to provide better continuity in the different stakes divisions and said there would be less emphasis on turf racing.

"We need a stakes program, but it has to have continuity for sex, distance, and surface," Liebau said. "In the past, we've gone to more grass races than we should. Most of our horses are Cal-breds, and they haven't distinguished themselves on the grass for the most part.

"We've gone for balance, more balance than before."