08/30/2004 11:00PM

Derby and Oaks take it up a notch

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Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind., begins its 10th season of Thoroughbred racing on Thursday evening with increased purses for each of its richest races, the Grade 2, $500,000 Indiana Derby on Oct. 2, and the $400,000 Grade 3 Indiana BC Oaks on Oct. 1.

Purses for the Derby and Oaks have each been boosted $100,000 this year. The Derby, which was won by Excessivepleasure in 2003 when run as a Grade 3 for the first time, is up another grade this year.

Hoosier's meet has been shortened to 60 days from 70 last year. With 11 Thoroughbred races scheduled daily, the number of races offered this year will be just short of last year's total. Purses for the meet will average $115,000 daily.

Total purse distribution is "just about the same as last year," said Butch Cook, the track's new racing secretary. "Our better races I was able to raise about $1,500, and I've brought our bottom purse back up to $7,000 with a $4,000 minimum claiming price. The middle-of-the road races will be about the same."

Cook has served as assistant racing secretary at Hoosier the previous two years and also was the racing secretary at Indiana Downs this spring. Former Hoosier racing secretary, Warren Groce, now holds a similar position at Evangeline Downs.

Trainer Ralph Martinez returns from his record-breaking season a year ago and is represented with three runners on the opening-night card. Martinez rewrote the Hoosier record books last year with 66 winners, smashing the previous mark of 42 set by Stanley Roberts in 2001.

Martinez was allotted 50 stalls for his large outfit. He currently is based at Fairmount Park, which overlaps with Hoosier through Sept. 18. Through Monday, Martinez was sixth in the nation for races won. He currently leads the Fairmount standings by a 140-46 margin.

Barbara McBride, who has previously shipped in to race here, will be based in Indiana this fall and has 45 stalls. McBride is currently in a heated trainers' race at Ellis Park, where she has a slim lead in a five-way battle. Gary Patrick and Ron Powell will also return with sizeable outfits, as will Kim Hammond.

Orlando Mojica returns as the defending champ in a jockey colony that always run deep and includes Rodney Prescott, the leading rider at Indiana Downs this spring, and regulars Eric Payne, Jeremy Acridge, Inosencio Diego, Ramsey Zimmerman, and Lester Knight.

The opening feature is a 5 1/2-furlong sprint for fillies and mares who have never won two races other than maiden, claiming, starter, or Indiana-bred. That last condition gives Miss Dakota an opportunity to return to the track off a two-month freshener. She won the Vincennes and the Evansville Stakes here last year and is a career winner of nearly $150,000. Mojica will ride from post 2 for trainer Richard Kohnhorst.

Her main threat appears to be Imbrachium, who has been running strongly at Churchill Downs and Ellis for a $15,000 claiming price this summer. Eddie Zuniga has the ride for trainer Carol Renn from post 3.