11/01/2007 11:00PM

Big purse hikes starting next year

EmailVANCOUVER, British Columbia - Hastings announced Thursday that it will raise its purses in 2008 back to their level in 2006. It represents a 25 percent increase over the purses paid out this year.

Part of the reason for the raise is that the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the B.C. Standardbred Association reached an agreement on how to split revenue derived from teletheater wagering. Currently, the money is divided by a 67/33 split in favor of the Thoroughbred side. An eight-year deal has been reached, moving the split in 2008 to 70/30. The Thoroughbred sector will receive another 1 percent in each of the next three years, and then a 73/27 split for the rest of the agreement.

According to the HPBA, this means an extra $460,000 towards purses in 2008, and by 2015, the final year of the agreement, over $800,000 in additional purse revenue.

"I think it's a good deal for both sides," said Harold Barroby, vice-president of the HBPA. "Both sides had to compromise their original positions but now we can move forward together. I feel strongly that we're better off promoting racing together rather than going our separate ways."

The HBPA's original position was that the money should be split according to how much is bet per breed. Over 75 percent of the wagering in B.C. is on the Thoroughbred product.

Another reason for the increase is that the purse pool at Hastings this year is in very good shape and management is confident that all negative things have bottomed out.

"It has been a challenging year for our horsemen because of the reduction in purse money and less days," said Raj Mutti, director of operations for Hastings. "We held our own this year, though, and we're hoping the purse increase will help fuel a better season in 2008. Really there's nowhere to go but up."

According to Mutti, the live handle is down this year but an increase in simulcast wagering has offset the drop.

"Actually, total wagering in the province is up by about 4 percent this year," said Mutti. "A lot of the growth has come because we are now able to bet directly into the U.S. pools. Our big players are still here and we are seeing it mostly through the wickets on the simulcast figures. Plus, Great Canadian upgraded the simulcast centers in their casinos and there has been tremendous growth there as well."

Great Canadian Gaming Corporation owns Hastings and the local Standardbred track, Fraser Downs.

Another reason for Mutti's optimism is that Hastings is hoping to open its temporary slots floor soon. The slots are set up and ready to go, plus staff has been hired. Great Canadian is waiting for a final approval from the city of Vancouver to open the slots floor. The revenue from the temporary facility, 150 slots, will help fund the redevelopment of the site. In the first phase of the redevelopment a total of 600 slots will be installed. According to Mutti it will take about eight to 10 months to complete the initial part of the project.

"One of the challenges we are going to face next year is that we're going to be under construction," he said. "We're hoping to begin work as soon as the live season ends, and the main challenge will be in keeping our customers as comfortable as possible."

Hastings also announced its racing dates for 2008, and the schedule is similar to 2007 with 68 days starting April 26. The meet will conclude on Nov. 2.

Rider title clinched, Gutierrez departs

Mario Gutierrez had wrapped up top jockey honors by mid-summer so it won't cost him the title by not riding the final weekend. According to his agent, Wayne Snow, Gutierrez's work permit expired Nov. 1 and he went to Mexico City to visit his family before heading to Golden Gate to ride this winter. Gutierrez won 134 races this year. Dave Wilson is in second place in the standings with 87 wins.

Leading apprentice Fernando Perez has also gone back to Mexico and won't be riding the final weekend. With 33 wins Perez holds a 12-win lead over runner-up apprentice rider Rocco Bowen.

Troy Taylor is in front of Toni Cloutier by three wins in the race for leading trainer, and it's possible the title could be decided in the 11th and final race on Sunday where they both have horses entered. Taylor has won 44 races and has a strong 33 percent win rate.

If Taylor, 75, holds onto his lead it would be his second training title at Hastings. He last was the leading trainer in 1963.

"It's been a great year, and I've certainly had a lot of fun," Taylor said. "The main thing is that I have been given a lot of nice horses to work with."

Most of the horses Taylor trains are owned by Glen Todd and Patrick Kinsella. Taylor is taking a string of horses owned by them to Golden Gate this winter. Grade 3 Premiers winner Sir Gallovic heads the contingent. According to Todd, Sir Gallovic's first start in California will be in the Grade 3, $150,000 All American Stakes at Golden Gate Nov. 17.

Actually, quite a few trainers based at Hastings will be racing in Northern California this winter. Last year's co-leading trainers Barb Heads and Terry Clyde are setting up barns there. Also heading south are John Snow, Alex Murray, and Carl Lausten.