Prairie Meadows Cancels Thoroughbred Races

Prairie Meadows canceled its final four Thoroughbred races Friday after jockeys said a dip in the racing surface made conditions unsafe to ride.

Riders said that Thursday's rainstorm created a four-inch dip in the surface at the quarter pole on the far turn, just before the head of the stretch.

"It was right at a point where a horse is going to switch leads," jockey Alex Birzer said. "As he's switching his lead and he hits that spot, it could get bad."

It is the first time that Prairie Meadows has canceled raced due to track conditions since it had March racing in 1991. However, the quarter horse races were run as scheduled 90 minutes later since those four dashes were only took place in the stretch.

Director of racing Derron Heldt said the area in question would be shored up in time for Saturday night's races.

The decision to cancel came after the third race was delayed by 25 minutes. Birzer, the jockey colony's guild representative, and Prairie Meadows track superintendent Lamont Marks went to the area in question to see if it could be promptly patched up by adding some surface.

Birzer, whose brother was paralyzed in a riding accident last year at Mountaineer Park, said it was still unsafe.

"You feel obligated to the horsemen and the crowd, but you also feel obligated to your family," Birzer said. "It was a hard decision, but I think we made the right decision."

Heldt said he wouldn't second-guess the jockeys' decision. Neither would trainer Tim Gleason, who had horses in the third and sixth races.

"It's up to them," Gleason said. "You can't force them to ride. If you made them ride and one of them hit that hole, we'd all feel bad, wouldn't we?"

Birzer and jockey Terry Thompson noticed the dip prior to the second race and then Thompson's mount, Eltish Ride, hit the dip during the race.

"Some horses as they come up to it will step over it," Birzer said. "Two horses that ran through it in the second race, one horse (Hello Sparky) stepped over it, and the other (Eltish Ride) stepped down in it, and he said he could feel his horse drop down several inches."

Since Prairie Meadows went to an April start in 1993, races have been canceled for three other reasons -- because of a storm, a downed power line, and in observance of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.

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