09/11/2006 11:00PM

Derby day handle helps boost meet average

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SASKATOON, Saskatchewan - A very strong closing card on Saturday, highlighted by the Saskatchewan Derby, helped cap off a strong Thoroughbred season at Marquis Downs, one that showed a slight increase in live handle over the 2005 meet.

The average daily handle on races at Marquis Downs was $28,671 for the 29-day 2006 meeting, an increase of 1.8 percent from the $28,107 daily average at the 28-day meeting in 2005. Marquis Downs does not export its races, which can be bet only ontrack.

Saturday's Derby card had the largest handle in more than a decade, according to the track's race manager, Rick Fior, with more than $55,300 wagered. Alberta ship-in Paxton Ridge won the $15,000 Derby for local owner Frank Schira.

The races for leading rider and trainer were not very close.

Jockey Tim Moccasin's 50 victories were 22 more that than those of the runner-up, Niam Samaroo. Serge Rocheleau was another win back in third with 27.

Mike Tourangeau was the leading trainer with 23 wins from 157 starters, six winners more than Hubert Pilon's 17 and eight more than the 15 saddled by both Judy Hunter and Russell Gardipy. Those three, however, each had fewer than 50 starters.

The Saskatchewan horse of the year honor is likely to go to Sand Rush, who had 6 wins and 2 seconds from 8 starts for owner Jim Ross.

Sand Rush won all four stakes for older horses and earned himself an additional $2,000 bonus by sweeping the City Centre Bingo Handicap Series. While Sand Rush's six wins were tops on the circuit, his $23,040 in earnings was only second-best.

Mischeviousfighter's win in the Prairie Lily Sales Stakes capped off a perfect 3-for-3 juvenile campaign and made him the province's leading money winner for RJ Stables with $25,800.

RJ Stables also campaigned Excessively Sweet, the 3-year-old filly who won 3 of 4 races here and set a track record in the Three-Year-Old Sale Stakes, beating males at seven furlongs.

Fior has indicated that 30 racing days are expected in 2007 but no details regarding purse structure has been finalized. Negotiations with the province for the track to add video lottery terminals will continue over the off-season.