03/30/2006 1:00AM

50th anniversary party

Michael Burns Photo
Woodbine's dirt track will change in mid-meet to a synthetic surface. Eclipse- and Sovereign-winning apprentice Emma-Jayne Wilson has nine opening-day mounts.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year by remembering its past. But, at the same time, Woodbine will be taking a bold step into the future with the announcement earlier this week of the addition of Polytrack, a synthetic surface that is deemed to be easier on horses than a conventional dirt track.

The meeting opens two weeks earlier and ends a week earlier than last year, going from Saturday until Dec. 3. Total purses will be in the neighborhood of $83.6 million, and the average overnight purse distribution will be approximately $385,000.

Among the highlights are the $1 million Queen's Plate on June 25, and the $1 million Woodbine Mile, formerly the Atto Mile, on Sept. 17. Canada's richest race, the $2 million Canadian International, heads the blockbuster Oct. 22 card, which also includes the $1 million E.P. Taylor Stakes.

The $700,000 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf, a new Grade 2 event, is scheduled for July 23, the same day that the 50th anniversary will be commemorated.

Racing will be conducted on Saturdays and Sundays the first two weeks of the meeting. Fridays will be added beginning April 14, and racing on Wednesdays and Thursdays will commence May 3. Thursdays after long weekends will be dark.

Woodbine's new post time is 1:10 p.m, except for Wednesdays, which will have a first post of 6:50 p.m.

The monotony of the lengthy meeting will be broken up in the summer, when the dirt from the main track will be moved to the seven-furlong harness track and replaced with the Polytrack, which is currently used at Turfway Park in Kentucky and in England.

The changes will essentially divide the meeting into three stages. Racing will be conducted on the one-mile dirt track until July 3, before switching over to the seven-furlong harness track, which was once the inner turf, the course over which the legendary Secretariat made his final career start, in the 1973 International. After a six-to-eight-week stint there, racing will move to the cushiony Polytrack.

The season's opening will see the official debut of wireless wagering, in which customers will be able to use hand-held PC's to wager directly into betting pools.

Woodbine's successful 2005 experiment with a 20-cent base bet for the superfecta will continue this year. The base bet for the Win 4 will be 20 cents, instead of $1, beginning Saturday.

"The betting patterns on the Win 4 are very similar to the superfecta," said Sean Pinsonneault, Woodbine's vice president of wagering services. "We think [the lower price] will start drawing more money into that pool from people who never considered it before because it was too costly to get in to."

Emma-Jayne Wilson, last year's Eclipse- and Sovereign Award-winning apprentice, has nine mounts on Saturday's 10-race card. She will ride outsider Terrific Challenge in the feature, a five-furlong allowance prep for the April 15 Jacques Cartier Stakes.

Wilson led the Woodbine rider standings last year with 175 wins, 39 more than runner-up Corey Fraser, who became a journeyman in the fall. Justin Stein, the leading rider at Hastings last year, could fill the void left by Fraser in the local apprentice ranks. Both Wilson and Stein are scheduled to lose their apprentice allowance in midsummer.

Saturday's $79,900 feature includes two Sovereign Award winners, Judiths Wild Rush and Wholelottabourbon.

Judiths Wild Rush, sent out by 2005 Sovereign Award-winning trainer Reade Baker, was voted Canada's champion 2-year-old in 2003, and was champion sprinter last year. He made two starts during the winter at Gulfstream, finishing third in the Grade 3 Deputy Minister Handicap and fourth in the Grade 2 Richter Scale BC Handicap.

Jim McAleney will ride Judiths Wild Rush for the first time Saturday.

Wholelottabourbon, trained by Nick Gonzalez, copped the 2004 Sovereign for champion 2-year-old on the strength of his three stakes victories. He had an abbreviated three-race campaign last year, during which he captured Woodstock Stakes and ran second in the Grade 3 Marine Stakes.

Danieltown, a rapid 13-time winner, is also in the six-horse field. He has switched trainers since running second in his last start in a Nov. 27 allowance at Mountaineer, going from Bernie Flint to Mark Casse.

Racing highlights

June 11Labatt Woodbine Oaks$500,000
June 25Queen's Plate1,000,000
July 23Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf700,000
Aug. 6Breeders' Stakes500,000
Sept. 17Woodbine Mile1,000,000
Oct. 22Canadian International2,000,000
Oct. 22E.P. Taylor Stakes1,000,000
Oct. 22Nearctic Stakes500,000