Hoosier Park Opens Saturday With Full Fields

Hoosier Park is set to open its 60-day Thoroughbred meeting Saturday and if entries for the opening weekend are any indication, the Anderson oval could have a strong meet. A total of 14 races are carded for opening night, with 10 of the 11 Thoroughbred events attracting full fields.

Three Quarter Horse contests will round out the program.

"I'm a big believer in momentum. Full fields should help us get off on a strong foot," said Rick Moore, Hoosier Park president and general manager. "That's what the simulcast market demands."

This year management opted to open on Saturday of the Labor Day holiday. Last year the facility opened Thursday evening, creating a strain on the entry box with five programs to fill. Hoosier Park will also be dark the Wednesday following the holiday.

"There's a shortage of horse flesh," Moore said. "When we opened on Thursday we had a lot of races to fill. The change will help with races filling the following weekend."

Ellis Park, Fairmount Park, Great Lakes Downs, River Downs and Thistledown are all vying for horses in the Midwest.

"We struggled last year at the beginning of the meet," said Raymond "Butch" Cook, director of Thoroughbred racing. "That's a lot of racetracks within a 300, 400-mile radius."

Cook said stall applications for 1,500 horses were submitted for the 925 stalls he had available. The condition book hasn't changed much from 2004, with horseman racing $4,000 claimers for a $9,000 bottom purse. In the top class, open allowance horses will race for $16,500.

But the heart of the Hoosier meet lies in claiming races, which is where a majority of the $125,000 in average purse structure is allocated. Moore feels that the purse structure will bring horsemen to Anderson despite the high cost of fuel. Cook said that of the 130-plus horses entered for opening night, 60% are ship-ins.

"We gear our purses toward the claiming ranks. With a $9,000 bottom it still makes it attractive to ship here. The same horses are running for $5,000 or less elsewhere," Moore said. "We know what we are. We have a majority of our purses earmarked toward claiming races. We have a strong claiming program."

If ship-in numbers begin to falter, Cook has a wealth of Indiana-bred horses he can tap to help bolster the program. He said he could fill four or five races per night with Indiana-sired or owned horses. In fact, he wrote a maiden allowance for Indiana-sired horses for opening weekend that attracted 36 entries.

"That helps a lot," he said of the strength of the Indiana program. "We brought back the maiden allowance race as an extra for Thursday."

New to the barn area this season is blood gas testing. Last month the Indiana Horse Racing Commission unanimously passed measures that call for the testing. Hoosier Park is paying for the testing of four randomly-selected horses each race, and Indiana Downs will do the same when the Shelbyville track hosts Thoroughbred racing in 2006.

"The Commission (IHRC) was very proactive along with Hoosier Park," said Moore. "We fully support the program. We think it's that important. We want horsemen to compete on a level playing field."

Patrons both live and simulcast will also see a change in Hoosier Park's wagering menus. New in 2005 are dime superfectas and 50-cent trifectas. Moore believes the additional wagering options will be well received.

"It opens up that type of wagering to folks that haven't wagered in the past," he said of the new options. "At Arlington the 50-cent wagers increased trifecta wagering. Now patrons will box four or five horses that normally wouldn't do that."

Hoosier Park will conduct racing Wednesday through Sunday through November 25 with a first post of 6:10 p.m. EST. The Indiana Derby (gr. II), Hoosier Park's signature Thoroughbred event, is slated for Oct. 1. The Indiana Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. III) will be held Sept. 30.