07/17/2003 11:00PM

'Seabiscuit' to boost tracks, charities


DEL MAR, Calif. - With the movie "Seabiscuit" set to open nationwide on Friday, racetracks across the country are planning promotions this summer with Seabiscuit themes, and several racing-related charities will benefit from screenings to be held prior to the movie's official opening night.

In California on Sunday, more than 550 people who spent $150 per ticket will have cocktails and appetizers in Arcadia, Calif., at The Derby restaurant - which was originally owned by jockey George Woolf, who rode Seabiscuit in his match race against War Admiral - and then will see the film at a nearby theater complex owned by horse owner George Krikorian. The beneficiaries of the sold-out event are the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund and the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation.

"I'm thrilled with the way this turned out," said trainer Jenine Sahadi, who organized the benefit. She had an inside track toward procuring a screening because she trains horses for Gary Barber, whose Spyglass Entertainment is one of the film's producers. "I can't thank Barber and Krikorian enough," she said. "Thanks to their generosity, the charities are going to split between $70,000 and $75,000."

In Kentucky this weekend, more than 1,700 people paid between $100 and $500 to see a screening of the film at Louisville's art-deco Palace Theater. Team Valor president Barry Irwin, who has owned horses in partnership with Barber - including Santa Anita Derby winner The Deputy - organized this fundraiser to benefit the Race for Education, which "raises money for scholarships for offspring of people who work on the backstretch," Irwin said.

"I've got to give credit to the producers of the film," Irwin said. "Not only are they bringing credit to the sport, they're doing things like supplying the movie and renting the theater for this."

When Saratoga opens on Wednesday, that evening's highlight will be a screening at the Regal Theaters in the nearby Wilton Mall to benefit the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The event, which includes a pre-screening cocktail party at the Hall of Fame, is sold out.

Tickets are still available ($200 each, call 859-846-4956) for a screening Wednesday night in Lexington, Ky., at Hopewell Farm for the fledgling charity Old Friends, which desires to have a home for retired stallions. "We're trying to keep them all in one spot so people can visit them," said Rick Trontz, the owner of Hopewell.

Magna Entertainment has screenings in conjunction with tracks the company owns in the San Francisco Bay Area, Baltimore, and Dallas. The Bay Area fundraiser ($100, call 510-559-7300), to be held on Tuesday at the Auctions by the Bay Theater, benefits the Winners Foundation.

The Baltimore fundraiser ($125-$500, call 410-628-0795) on Wednesday at the Senator Theatre benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Maryland Horse Industry Foundation. Scheduled attendees include Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. and legendary sportscaster Jim McKay.

The Lone Star Park Charitable Foundation for Grand Prairie is the beneficiary of the Dallas fundraiser ($100, call 972-237-4367), to be held Thursday at the AMC Grand 24 Theater.

Marketing executives at the country's major tracks are hoping that interest in the film spurs moviegoers to go to the races this summer. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has produced a three-minute, 15-second infomercial on racing that will play prior to the film in many theaters through Aug. 21.

Movie posters at theaters in the San Diego area will alert fans that their ticket stubs are good for 2-for-1 admission at Del Mar.

Del Mar, where Seabiscuit won a less-celebrated match race against Ligaroti, will have "Seabiscuit Day" on Aug. 2. It will feature the giveaway of a ceramic mug with the colors of Seabiscuit owner Charles S. Howard, and an autograph session with jockey Gary Stevens, who plays Woolf in the film.

Saratoga, where Seabiscuit won twice in four starts, will give away the same ceramic mug on July 27. The New York Racing Association has been running a trailer for the film all spring at Belmont Park.

On Friday at the Regal Cinema Oakwood 18 in Hollywood, Fla., Calder Race Course is sponsoring a Family Fun Day, which includes pony rides and food stands. Revenue from the event will go to Churchill Downs Inc.'s Green Pastures program, which donates money to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. Calder, on its recent Summit of Speed day, gave away movie posters to youths who are members of the track's Junior Jockey Club.

At Arlington Park, employees will see the movie at a special, employees-only screening Friday morning. "We anticipate a lot of people who come to the track will have seen the film, so we think it will pay to have our employees informed about the film," said Dan Leary, Arlington's director of communications.

Arlington on July 27 will give out movie posters to the first 500 fans in attendance; will hold random drawings during the day for T-shirts, hats, and movie passes; and, after the races, will show for free on its infield Jumbotron the movie "The Story of Seabiscuit," which came out in 1949 and stars Shirley Temple.

The T-shirts and hats, as well as Seabiscuit cards, are also available at the NTRA's website, ntra.com.