08/26/2003 11:00PM

Two stakes to kick off meet


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Bay Meadows hopes to get off to a big start as it begins a 50-day fall meeting Friday.

Two stakes races are planned for opening weekend, including the $100,000 California Turf Championship, which last year was one of the meet's most hotly contested events.

Ninebanks and Surprise Halo ran one-two in the Turf Championship last year and are expected to renew their rivalry. Ninebanks won two graded stakes races this spring, and Surprise Halo is coming off a victory in the $100,000 Joseph Grace Handicap at Santa Rosa.

Despite an overlap with the California State Fair in Sacramento, which could affect field size in some races, Bay Meadows will seek to build on momentum from the summer fair circuit as racing returns to the main tracks of Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields - both of which are owned by Magna Entertainment - for the fall, winter, and spring.

Because of increased field sizes and handle at the fairs, Bay Meadows President F. Jack Liebau is optimistic entering the season.

"That's a positive sign," he said of the increased handle.

The stakes schedule begins Saturday when fillies and mares meet in the $60,000 Autumn Leaves Handicap at one mile on the turf. Monday's Cal Turf Championship is one of four stakes at the meet with a six-figure purse.

Also scheduled during the meet is the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap, a $200,000 race at 1 1/8 miles on the turf that could be a prep race for some Breeders' Cup hopefuls.

The $100,000 California Sprint Championship at six furlongs for Cal-breds on Oct. 4 could also have ramifications for the Breeders' Cup, which will be held at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

The Grade 3, $100,000 Bay Meadows Derby, for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on the turf, is scheduled for Nov. 1.

Bay Meadows officials are hoping to take advantage of their re-sodded turf course to attract horses who are unable to find turf opportunities during Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

Special "Friday's Alive" evening racing will run for five weeks beginning Sept. 26. Friday's Alive offers $1 admission for students with ID's and features live music.

The first round of the NTRA/Daily Racing Form Handicappers Challenge will run all four days of opening weekend and will conclude on Monday.

The track will continue the series of Seabiscuit promotions that it began with a Seabiscuit bobblehead giveaway last fall and that continued during the fair circuit. On Monday, free Seabiscuit ball caps will be given to adults, and youngsters will receive free Seabiscuit horse banks.

At a glance: Bay Meadows

RACING SCHEDULE: 50 days; Aug. 29-Nov. 2; racing Wednesday through Sunday with special Monday racing Sept. 1 and 8, and Oct. 13; dark Sept. 11

POST TIME: 1:45 p.m. Pacific (Aug. 29-Sept. 10); 1:15 p.m. (Sept. 12-Nov. 2) 7 p.m. Friday nights (Sept. 26, Oct. 3, 10, 17, 24)

HIGHLIGHTS: $100,000 California Turf Championship, Sept. 1 ; Grade 3, $200,000 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap, Sept. 27; $100,000 Cal Sprint Championship, Oct. 4; Grade 3, $100,000 Bay Meadows Derby, Nov. 1

ADMISSIONS: $3 grandstand; $6 clubhouse; $10 turf club weekdays; $15 turf club Friday-Sunday and holidays

PARKING: $4 general; $7 preferred, valet

ADDRESS: 2600 S. Delaware St., San Mateo

PHONE: (650) 574-7223

INTERNET: www.baymeadows.com