01/04/2002 1:00AM

Rare day with small fields


ALBANY, Calif. - Those who moan about small field sizes in northern California may look at Sunday's Golden Gate Fields card with a knowing nod of the head.

The featured race, a one-mile allowance for fillies and mares, drew a field of eight - the biggest field on the nine-race card. Three other races also drew eight, but the total for the nine-race card was only 64, an average of 7.1

But cards with small fields have been the exception at Golden Gate this year.

At this meeting, which began Nov. 7, the average has been 8.3 horses a race, up 3 percent from the previous year's meet.

With the slightly bigger fields, Golden Gate Fields has shown a 9 percent increase in handle this year. Ontrack handle has been even with last year, and wagering at northern California satellite sites is up 3 percent; the real improvement is in out-of-state handle, which is up 16 percent.

"There are probably a lot of factors," racing secretary Greg Brent said. "We have a good inventory of horses, and the horsemen want to run. Hopefully, we are positioning races correctly."

Brent said Golden Gate Fields's larger barn area also helps, compared with Bay Meadows, because trainers often look a little closer before entering if they have to ship.

Brent also credits track superintendent Bob Aguirre and his crew for keeping the track maintained during difficult weather conditions.

"When you have a lot of wet weather, you hope horses can bounce back and avoid minor injuries that come with wet tracks," he said. "You have to balance having it open for training and having it good for the afternoon."

Still, the week of steady and often heavy rains that have affected training may have finally caught up at the entry box.

Legitimate cases can be made for each of the eight entrants in Sunday's feature, from Whistling Bullet and Nice Fish, who just graduated, to Got You Slew, who has eight career victories. Also entered are Honey Mustard Girl, who has won two straight sprints, Mighty Dixie, Pheiffer, Kalihi Maggie, and Power to Burn.

Phyeiffer, a 4-year-old filly trained by Donna Elordi, is one of the more interesting entrants. She won her first three starts at Boise but is 0-for-5 while knocking on the door in the Bay Area. In her last start here on Nov. 25, she was third behind runaway winner Demo Memo and Gifted Daughter.

"She's a nice filly," Elordi said. "In that last race [a $40,000 optional claiming race], she ran against two fillies who had already won at that condition. I'm happy we may have a decent track on Sunday, but she'll run on anything. Her only bad start here came on the turf when she lost a shoe."