02/19/2004 1:00AM

Blue Ribbon: First meet for Choctaws


Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Okla., was once at odds with the Choctaw tribe of Oklahoma, but now they are on the same team. The Choctaws purchased Blue Ribbon in November, and on Saturday will open the track for the first of two mixed meets this year. The spring season will run through May 1, while the fall session will extend from Aug. 6 to Oct. 30.

"This year will be the first year the track has offered a split meet," said Robin Akers, a spokesperson for Blue Ribbon.

Blue Ribbon was sold to the Choctaws for a reported $4 million the day before it was to be auctioned to settle a nearly $3 million debt to the city of Sallisaw. The move surprised some, as Blue Ribbon and the Choctaws had clashed over offtrack betting the tribe offered at a site about 25 miles from Blue Ribbon.

But now the once-struggling Blue Ribbon is benefiting from the profits of the Choctaws. Improvements to the clubhouse, track surface, and barn areas have been made since last meet. And in the grandstand, there is new carpeting and additional televisions. A child-care center opened at the track Dec. 31.

Blue Ribbon will race on Saturdays and Sundays in February, then add Fridays to the schedule in March.

The major stakes races in the spring are the Blue Ribbon Futurity for Quarter Horses on March 21, the 300-yard division of the Black Gold Futurity for Quarter Horses on April 17, and the Kentucky Derby Day Handicap at six furlongs on May 1.

In the fall, the Oklahoma Futurity for Quarter Horses is set for Sept. 6, while the Black Gold Championship for Quarter Horses will be run on Oct. 30.

There is no stakes on opening day, but there will be trials for the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association Maiden Maturity. The first stakes, the Randy Bailey Memorial for Thoroughbreds, will be run on Sunday.

Post time for the first race Friday is 1 p.m. Central.