04/28/2002 11:00PM

Quantity trumps quality

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - If you want to catch the feature race at Bay Meadows on Wednesday, get there early.

The day's feature will be run as the first race on the eight-race card. It's a $40,000 optional claimer at six furlongs for 3-year-old fillies.

It is the feature because it is the best race of the day. The reason that it will run as the first race is because only five were entered, and in today's world of racing, with exotics on every race, field size is extremely important in race placement.

"We look at races that are historically the most popular, and we measure popularity by the amount [of money] wagered," said F. Jack Liebau, president and general manager of Bay Meadows. "We aim to please our customers and put our most popular races later in the day."

The most popular races are those with larger fields that allow trifecta (six-horse minimum) and superfecta (eight-horse minimum) wagering.

"We're also in business," Liebau said. "We have a profit-making mentality. We have an obligation to place races where they can generate the most for purses."

Saturday's card showed the value of quantity over quality.

Northern California's only Grade 2 race of the year, the San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile, attracted only four horses. Entered were Decarchy, ranked the No. 1 turf horse in the United States by Daily Racing Form; Sarafan, ranked No. 2 just behind Decarchy; Suances, who had won six of seven races in Europe, including a Group 1 race; and The Tin Man, a late developer making his stakes debut after winning three straight allowance races.

But with only four horses, the handle on the race, carded as the third race of the day, was just $267,000. The next race, a field of eight maidens running for a $20,000 claiming tag handled $670,000.

Actually, Wednesday's card is a strong one with a pair of $32,000 claimers, a maiden $25,000 claimer and - in the traditional feature spot, the seventh race - a one-mile maiden special weight on the turf that drew 12 entrants.

As for the feature, Ragin T Rex, who shipped north from Santa Anita and won a $32,000 starter allowance race by 11 lengths, returns to meet At the Copa, first and second at Arlington Park last summer in her only two starts; Dark City, second and third against similar competition in her past two starts; stakes-placed The News' West; and Florida import Nefertiri.

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