04/04/2007 12:00AM

Cradle Stakes, now a turf race, caps meet


It's not unusual for a racetrack to make minor changes to the conditions of its signature event. Changes in name, a tweak in distance, or a date adjustment are a few of the ways tracks have enhanced or maintained the status of a race that forms a large part of their identity.

Rare, however, is for a track to make a more radical change, such as a surface switch, to its premier race. But that is what River Downs in Cincinnati has done with the $200,000 Cradle Stakes, which will be run on turf for the first time on Labor Day, Sept. 3, capping a 105-day meet that begins Friday.

For most of its three decades of existence as a dirt race, the Cradle had the distinction of being the first major two-turn stakes for 2-year-olds in the country. However, recent difficulties in getting the Cradle graded again, plus the addition of a new Breeders' Cup grass race for 2-year-olds led River Downs officials to re-examine the future of their most identifiable race.

"There are very few races in that category, and we thought a switch to turf would make it a more attractive goal," said racing secretary Ed Vomacka.

The Cradle is one of 11 stakes at the meet, worth a total of $810,000, which is an increase of $30,000 over last season. The Bassinet, for 2-year-old fillies, is the meet's only other open stakes, and it holds its usual position on the Saturday before the Cradle. Its $100,000 purse and six-furlong distance remain the same as in previous years. The $100,000 Queen City Oaks is the richest of nine stakes restricted to Ohio-breds.

Overnight purses are generally on par with last year, with open maiden special weights going for $10,000 and first-level allowances worth $10,600. Similar races for Ohio-breds offer slightly higher purses as usual.

River Downs will once again race in a 7&7 alternating format with Thistledown four days a week, and race a full card every Tuesday and on select Saturdays in April. A 7&7 with Beulah Park will be held this Saturday.

* Local riding legend Perry Ouzts, 52, was 65 wins shy of 5,000 through Tuesday.

* Select items from Montgomery Inn, the famed Cincinnati-area barbecue restaurant, will be available during the meet in the Turf Terrace dining room.