09/09/2003 11:00PM

Big closing day helps push live handle up 9 percent


SASKATOON, Saskatchewan - An average live handle of $21,169 for the recently concluded 30-day Marquis Downs meeting represented a solid 9.1 percent increase compared to 2002.

The handle of $43,156 on last Saturday's closing-day program was the largest here in many years. The highlight of the card was the $15,000 Saskatchewan Derby, won by the locally owned Alberta ship-in Beauzak.

Attendance figures are not kept.

Both the trainer and jockey titles went to first-time winners.

Rennie Latchman won 43 races from 166 starts and was seven wins clear in the rider standings. Hubert Pilon and Don Bjarnarson tied with 16 wins apiece for the trainer standings.

Bjarnarson had a better win percentage than Pilon - 42 percent compared to 31 percent - but Pilon's runners earned $73,790, compard to $35,967 for Bjarnarson's.

The winningest horse was Double Time, who had six wins from seven starts and is a lock for divisional honors in the older horse category.

Tufposition will likely be named top claimer, with five wins and three placings from his eight 2003 starts. The richest horse was Royal Rush, the winner of the Prairie Lily Sales Stakes.

Funding that went to rural racing instead of Marquis Downs affected purses. Bottom purses at Marquis remained at the $2,200 level. Three weekends of racing held at Yorkton and five weekends in Melville, each with $1,200 to $1,300 purses, produced very small fields and handles.

Dates and plans for the 2004 meeting have not been confirmed.

* Bjarnarson was elected president of the Saskatchewan Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. His vice-president is Barclay Brooks.