10/31/2006 12:00AM

Turf sprint split into two races

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Entries have begun to pick up this week at Bay Meadows with horses returning from the Big Fresno Fair, the end of the normal three-week racing cycle for horses that ran late in the Golden Gate Fields meeting, and the use of the turf course for sprints.

Thursday, a five-furlong turf race drew 17 entrants and was split into two races of nine and eight runners competing for a $12,500 tag. They will be run as races 2 and 4.

With turf superintendent Bernie Eastridge adjusting the rail almost daily, the Bay Meadows turf course is holding up admirably during the early portion of the meet, allowing racing secretary Tom Doutrich to card the popular five-furlong turf sprints that could not be used on the chewed-up Golden Gate Fields turf course late in the meeting.

Trainers offer a variety of reasons why they enter so readily in turf sprints, but here's one of the primary ones: With the shorter distance, horses don't have to be worked as hard between races.

"It's easier to train for five furlongs," said Jamey Thomas, who entered Kid Ralston for his first start in 15 months in race 2. "You don't have to pound on horses as much to get them ready. You can walk or jog them if they need it."

John Martin, who returns Never Surrender to the turf in race 2, agreed. "It could be a fitness thing," Martin said. "You figure you can train them for five-eighths. By this time of year some horses are tired, and you probably haven't been able to train them hard, so sometimes you want to go the shortest available distance."

Jeanne Shand, Dennis Ward's assistant who will send out Sloat Blvd in race 2, agreed horses may not have to be trained as hard to prepare for five furlongs, but she said the turf also causes horses "less stress."

Thomas said that sometimes trainers simply want to try something different.

"Maybe there's some turf breeding there, but sometimes you try something different to see if you get lucky," Thomas said.

* In addition to the two sprints, there is a $20,000 claimer on the turf that attracted 12 3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles. Tymaker, Camisado, and Gold Creek Dancer - one-two-three in their last start - will meet again.