10/02/2007 11:00PM

Daily purses up 12% at Turf Paradise

EmailPHOENIX - Back in January 1956, Walter Cluer saw his dream come true. An area of desert a few miles north of downtown Phoenix, previously barren, became Turf Paradise. The Phoenix track opens its doors for the 52nd time Friday, fittingly with a stakes named to honor its founder.

Friday's $45,000 Walter R. Cluer Memorial, at 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf, kicks off the meet, which runs 156 days and concludes May 4. The track will hold live racing primarily on a Thursday-through-Tuesday basis. Full-card simulcasting from around the country will be offered seven days a week.

Some strong recent seasons have the Turf Paradise management optimistic there's more to come.

"Our purses are the highest in our history and the demand for stalls equally as strong," track owner Jerry Simms said.

The track pushed the average daily purse distribution to $100,000, up 12 percent from last year's $89,000.

The backstretch area has facilities for approximately 2,200 horses, and 3,500 applications for stalls were received.

Track president and general manager Eugene Joyce noted that horsemen in Southern California, where racing is conducted on synthetic surfaces, have shown interest in shipping horses who are better on dirt to the natural surface at Turf Paradise.

"We hope that will lead to increased field size for us, which will raise handle, which is for our sport the rising tide that lifts all boats," Joyce said.

Friday's Cluer, which highlights the nine-race opening-day slate, lured a full field of 10 and two also-eligibles. Favoritism may fall to the tough veteran Night Dash.

Owned by Stable HMA and trained by Bart Hone, the 5-year-old Night Dash hasn't run since March, when he was no threat in a turf stakes at Santa Anita. But he returns to a course he's handled well in the past. He was third at 62-1 in the Turf Paradise Handicap on Feb. 24. In December 2005, as a 3-year-old, he won the Chuck N Luck at a mile on this course and was second in the Last Chance Derby at 1 1/16 miles. Miguel Hernandez rides.

Organ Pipe comes off a series of good outings in Southern California, though he is a 3-year-old who will now take on elders. Trained by Dan McFarlane, Organ Pipe has yet to win in seven turf tries but he has run well on the surface. He was second in two consecutive allowance turf races at Hollywood in the spring, and was second in the one-mile Tempe Handicap here March 24.