03/28/2005 12:00AM

San Mateo may have dates edge

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - The California Horse Racing Board's decision last Thursday to allow year-round harness racing at Sacramento puts two weeks of mixed-breed racing in northern California up for grabs. The question is: Which track will get the dates?

With Sacramento running all harness racing in 2005 and 2006, the track's mixed-breed (Thoroughbreds, Appaloosas, Arabians, Quarter Horses and mules) State Fair meet, scheduled this year for Aug. 24 to Sept. 5, must be run at another northern California track. According to Dave Elliott, director of racing for the State Fair, four tracks have expressed interest in racing on those dates: Pleasanton, which runs its meet this year from June 29 to July 10; Santa Rosa, July 27 to Aug. 8; the San Mateo County Fair (known as the Bay Meadows Fair), Aug. 10 to Aug. 22.; and Fresno, Oct. 5 to 16.

Because of its location on the calendar, the San Mateo County Fair may have the inside track. The meet ends two days before the start of the State Fair meet, and the Bay Meadows fall meet begins Sept. 3. If the State Fair dates were to be run at Bay Meadows, it would just be an extension of the fair meet there and lead directly into the Bay Meadows fall meet.

One problem with that plan is it reduces the number of races for Thoroughbreds who aren't competitive on the regular California circuit as well as for the non-Thoroughbreds.

Perhaps the main stumbling block for Pleasanton, Santa Rosa, or Fresno getting the State Fair dates is that their meets are pegged to their county fairs. Would a race meet be viable at a fair track when no fair is running? Pleasanton, at least, keeps its barn area open year-round. Santa Rosa and Fresno open their barn areas only for their meets.

John Harris, chairman of the state racing board, said that the decision about transferring this year's State Fair dates would probably involve the racing board, the California Authority of Racing Fairs, each individual fair, the Thoroughbred Owners of California, and Thoroughbred and non-Thoroughbreds horsemen.

Stakes sponsorship a first

Although Saturday's Woodside Handicap is just another overnight stakes on the Bay Meadows schedule, the six-furlong race for fillies and mares will be the first sponsored stakes race at Bay Meadows.

MOC Insurance has signed up as a sponsor of the race, whose purse has been increased $5,000 to $60,000 as a result.

"We got a late start trying to get sponsorships for each overnight handicap for the whole meeting," said Mike Ziegler, vice president and general manager of operations at Bay Meadows. "We are looking at this as a way to boost purses and introduce people to racing."

Ziegler said he hopes Bay Meadows will be able to attract more sponsors for fall stakes races.

Saturday's race has only eight nominees, four based in Southern California, but the track's racing secretary, Tom Doutrich, is confident the race will be run.

Irish Femme looks tough in return

Seven fillies signed up for Wednesday's feature, a $25,000 claimer at six furlongs.

The comebacking Irish Femme, who has not started since running last in the Golden Poppy Handicap last Oct. 23, looms the one to beat for trainer Kent Molinaro.

A 5-year-old mare, Irish Femme has won 7 of 16 starts and has three victories, 1 second and 1 third in 8 starts at Bay Meadows. She has a solid series of works, and Molinaro wins at a 27 percent rate off layoffs, showing a $3.23 flat-bet profit.

Darlin Queen and Radon are the primary rivals.