Prairie Meadows Hikes Purses for Spring Meet

Prairie Meadows will offer a record purse per day average when its Thoroughbred meet opens on April 21.

The meet will offer $250,000 per day in purses and bonuses for Iowa-bred horses, which betters the $204,000 per day paid in 2002.

The 2005 spring season offered $190,000 per day in purses. This year's increase is due to higher purses from a new purse law and by condensing that money into a shorter racing season.

Prairie Meadows had 95 days of Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing in 2005. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission cut that number to 81 for this year, with the 45-day Thoroughbred season followed by a 36-day mixed Thoroughbred-Quarter Horse meet.

While horse owners balked at the shorter season, Prairie Meadows is hoping that more money will mean more horses. It was plagued by empty stalls and small fields in races the past two years.

"We still have a lot of work to do," racing secretary Dan Doocy said. "Purses won't solve everything. We weren't able to fill 200 stalls (in 2005). At least now, when we go to recruit, it gives us a little bit of a 'wow' factor that we didn't have the last two years.

"Is it a cure-all? No. Is it a useful tool? Absolutely."

Prairie Meadows' purses have mushroomed since the pre-casino days when it offered $20,000 per day. However, it lost ground in recent years as its purses were cut from $20 million to $15 million and gaming has spread to other states. Prairie Meadows' 2006 purses will be more than $18 million.

To attract more stables, Prairie Meadows is putting the bulk of its purse increase into claiming races, which will all be increased $5,000. Allowance race purses will rise by $4,000.

Last year, a horse that could be claimed for $4,000 ran in a race that offered a $5,500 to $6,500 purse. This year, that race will have an $11,500 purse. A $7,500 claiming horse will run for a $15,000 purse.

An open allowance race will have a $36,000 purse. If it's for Iowa breds, it will be worth $43,000.

"Any time you increase purses, it adds incentive for people to race," said Maureen Merkler, a Grimes horse breeder. "A $5,000 claimer running for a $10,000 purse is a good incentive. The only obstacle is the shorter meet. There aren't as many opportunities to run."

Other changes for this year:

* Doocy said he is getting rid of the variable claiming prices in which the sale price for Iowa-breds was higher than for horses from other states. Iowa-breds will also no longer carry less weight than other horses in open races.

* The Iowa Festival of Racing will be condensed to two nights featuring the track's six richest stakes races.

On Friday, June 30, Prairie Meadows will run the $250,000 Iowa Derby, the $200,000 Iowa Oaks (gr. III), and the $100,000 Saylorville Stakes.

Saturday, July 1, will feature the $125,000 Iowa Distaff Breeders' Cup, the $125,000 Iowa Sprint, and the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup (gr. II).

The Iowa Oaks purse is a $75,000 boost from 2005, a move intended to protect its grading.

"I wanted to show that we were committed to maintaining our grade," Doocy said. "This will help lure horses for the upcoming year. If you get a grading and lose it within a year or two, they're going to be very reluctant to give you the benefit of the doubt in the future."

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