08/19/2003 11:00PM

Changes abound as Magna tries to revitalize track

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Remington Park management is attempting to regroup this year.

The Oklahoma City track is owned by Magna Entertainment, which last year considered closing the facility because of declining business. Instead it has made a number of operational changes, which include shortening its Thoroughbred meet, which opens Friday night. The 57-day season will run through Nov. 30.

Remington also has moved the date of its premier race, the Oklahoma Derby, to Nov. 16; brought in new staff; developed an aggressive promotional calendar; and is working closer with its sister track Lone Star Park, which is also owned by Magna.

The Oklahoma Derby, a Grade 3 race worth $150,000, is usually one of the first stakes of the meet, but this year it has been moved back on the calendar

"We've positioned ourselves as the last dirt, graded 3-year-old spot [at two turns] in the country," said Fred Hutton, director of racing at Remington.

As for new staff, R.D. Logan took over as general manager of Remington in January. He came to the track from Lone Star, where he was director of security. Logan is a past president of the Oklahoma Thoroughbred Association.

He said one of the biggest changes this meet is the decision to race nights on Saturdays.

"We started doing that during the Quarter Horse meet and it seemed to improve our attendance," he said.

Logan added that over the past few months he has seen renewed patron interest. Remington has worked hard to improve customer services, he said, and earlier this year hired a new chef to boost food quality.

The meet's promotional calendar has been expanded. There will be live music between races every Friday night on the track apron - something Lone Star Park also does.

A concert featuring Cross Canadian Ragweed is set for Aug. 29, and will kick off the track's 15th anniversary celebration, which is on Sept. 1.

In other changes, Remington's signal is expected to go into several new sites, including Las Vegas, Chicago, West Virginia, and Indiana.

In addition to its Thoroughbred season, Remington this year held a shortened Quarter Horse meet and for the first time ran a mixed meet. For 2004, Remington has filed an amended dates request with the Oklahoma Racing Commission, requesting 28 days of Quarter Horse racing from April 2 through May 31 and 65 days of Thoroughbred racing from July 30 through Nov. 28.

The proposal was to be considered by the commission Thursday.

In recent years, Remington has faced increased competition from Native American casinos and OTB's in Oklahoma, as well as slots-rich tracks in Louisiana and New Mexico.

Track officials have worked in conjunction with other Oklahoma racing groups this year in an attempt to pass a bill that would allow the state's tracks to have the same type of gaming as the Indian casinos. The bill was passed by the Senate, but was not called up for a vote in the House before the session ended.

"It can still be brought up in the same vehicle or possibly something else," said Logan.

On the racing front, the Oklahoma Derby tops a 20-race stakes schedule worth about $1 million. Trainer Donnie Von Hemel will shoot for his 12th title at Remington this meet, while jockey Cliff Berry is looking for his ninth.

Purses will average about $75,000 a program. The feature on the eight-race opener is a starter allowance on turf that drew the consistent 9-year-old Bid the Zeal.

At a glance: Remington Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 57 days; Friday through Nov. 30. Racing on a Friday through Sunday schedule until Sept. 11, when the track will add Thursdays. A special Monday card will be run Sept. 1.

POST TIME: 6:45 p.m. Central nightly except Sundays, when first post is 1:15 p.m. There is also a special 1:15 p.m. post Sept. 1.

ADMISSIONS: General, $3.50; Clubhouse upgrade, $1 additional. Active duty military and children age 17 and under are admitted free, while retired military and patrons 62 and older receive a reduced general admission of $1.50.

PARKING: Free; Valet, $5.

HIGHLIGHTS: Grade 3, $150,000-added Oklahoma Derby on Nov. 16; $125,000 DeBartolo Memorial Breeders' Cup Turf Handicap on Sept. 1; $285,000 Oklahoma Classics Day program featuring seven restricted stakes Sept. 27; $75,000 MEC Mile for 2-year-olds Nov. 30.

ADDRESS: Located at the junction of Interstates 35 and 44 in Oklahoma City. The mailing address is Remington Park, One Remington Place, Oklahoma City, Okla., 73111.

PHONE: (405) 424-1000.

INTERNET: www.remingtonpark.com