05/20/2003 11:00PM

Derby now spotted as finale

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SASKATOON, Saskatchewan - Friday's seven-race card is first of 30 nights of live racing at Marquis Downs this season.

A total of 18 stakes races will be offered, highlighted by the $15,000 Saskatchewan Derby on closing day, Sept. 6.

Post time will be 7:05 p.m. Central, with racing scheduled every Friday and Saturday except Aug. 8 and 9.

While the 1 1/16-mile Saskatchewan Derby moves from early July to the final day of the meet, the balance of the stakes schedule is unchanged from previous years.

The meet's most lucrative day of racing is the Aug. 16 Heritage Day card, featuring four $10,000 races for Saskatchewan-bred 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds of both sexes.

The richest single race is the $22,500 Prairie Lily, for 2-year-olds who are graduates of the 2002 Saskatchewan yearling sale, on Aug. 30.

The discontinuation of Standardbred racing in Regina had led the Thoroughbred community here to hope for purse increases in the neighborhood of 35 percent.

The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, however, allocated $364,000 to mixed-breed racing in three rural Saskatchewan locales in 2003, up from just $15,000 in 2002, so purses at Marquis remain essentially the same as last year.

In the event that one of the three rural sites could not meet the requirements to race this year, the likely benefactor would be the Thoroughbreds at Marquis Downs.

Rick Fior, racing secretary at Marquis, said that the horse population is about the same as last year and that cards will be supplemented by an occasional Quarter Horse race.

The jockey colony is largely unchanged from 2002 and currently is headlined by Serge Rocheleau, Rennie Latchman, Andy Scarlett, and Burton Evans.

Janice Seesequasis returns after a year away from race-riding. Hector Rabbitskin is the lone newcomer.

With trainers Carl Anderson and Larry Dagg gone to Manitoba and Ontario, respectively, there are few large stables here this year.

Tom Gardipy Jr., who splits his starts between Marquis and Assiniboia Downs, looks like a good bet to three-peat as the top trainer.

His challengers should be Bob Barr, Don Bjarnarson, Fern Zdunick, and Hubert Pilon.

AT A GLANCE

RACING SCHEDULE: May 23 through Sept. 6. Fridays and Saturdays except Aug.8 and Aug. 9 (30 days)

MEET HIGHLIGHTS: Prairie Lily, Aug. 30; Saskatchewan Derby, Sept. 6; Heritage Stakes Day, Aug. 16

POST TIME: 7:05 p.m.

ADMISSIONS & PARKING: Free

LOCATION: Prairieland Park, Ruth St. & St. Henry Ave. Saskatoon, Sask.

PHONE: (306) 242-6100

INTERNET: saskatoonex.com