10/02/2002 12:00AM

Competition hurting Beulah


GROVE CITY, Ohio - Beulah Park racing officials have found that filling the entries for race cards this meet is tougher than expected.

When Beulah began its fall meeting three weeks ago, general manager Mike Weiss conceded that Beulah would have trouble competing with neighboring tracks in terms of quality. Weiss said that Beulah's goal was to have races with large, competitive fields that would attract simulcast fans' interest and increase handle. The goal seemed logical considering Beulah's fall meet has been among the top in the nation in terms of average field size the past several years.

But on Friday, for the second time in the last four racing days, no race on the card has as many as 10 runners scheduled to start. Entries for the program weren't drawn until 4 p.m. Eastern time Monday. The light entries are even more alarming since Beulah has to fill only seven races per day as part of the 7 & 7 race format it shares with Thistledown.

It appears horsemen are opting to race at other tracks in the region that offer higher purses. Monday night's 11-race program at Hoosier, a three hour drive west of Beulah in Indiana, had six full fields. Mountaineer Park, in West Virginia, had eight full fields on its 10-race program Monday night.

Both tracks offer purses at least double those of Beulah in comparable classes. Mountaineer has slot machines on track, and Hoosier receives purse subsidies from admissions paid at Indiana riverboats. Ohio has no alternate forms of gambling, although the state's three Thoroughbred and four harness tracks have actively lobbied to get slot machines at the tracks.

Turfway Park, which also has no alternate form of gambling and is a two-hour drive south of Beulah in northern Kentucky, had five full fields on its 10-race card on the meet's closing night Wednesday.

"A purse cut never helps," said Beulah's racing secretary, Ed Vomacka, referring to the drop in minimum claiming price from $4,000 to $3,500 with a corresponding reduction of the bottom purse from $5,000 to $4,200.

"River Downs struggled this summer and Thistle is having trouble filling now too," added Vomacka, who said he thinks he should get a boost in the entry box now that Turfway's meet is finishing. "We haven't gotten many horses from Kentucky so far, but hopefully it will pick up now."

Still, the drop off in entries from previous years in certain classes is alarming. Bottom maiden claiming races and conditioned claimers for nonwinners of a race this year, which in past have drawn more than 50 horses during the fall meet, are drawing in the 12-to-15 range this year.

Beulah's fall meeting runs five days per week through Dec. 22 and is followed by a winter-spring meeting in January that runs through Kentucky Derby Day 2003 for a total of more than 140 racing dates per year.