05/21/2001 11:00PM

Emerald slashes purses, cuts seven dates


AUBURN, Wash. - Emerald Downs will cut its overnight purses by 7 percent, effective with the condition book that begins on May 31.

In addition, the track has canceled plans to expand racing to five days a week in July and August. Seven Wednesday cards will be dropped: July 11, 18, and 25, and Aug. 1, 8, 15, and 22. The deletions mean the current meeting, which was scheduled for 96 days, will now end after 89 days of racing. It will be the shortest summer meeting ever run at Emerald Downs, which opened in 1996 with a 100-day season.

The cuts were inevitable after overall wagering at the track fell 10 percent to $1,027,076 per day through the first 15 days of the 2001 meeting. During the same period, the handle on live racing fell 11 percent to $790,798 per day.

Track president Ron Crockett blamed a 10 percent decrease in starters per day and increased competition from tribal casinos and card rooms for the declines. Fewer horses running has largely been a function of the track being able to card only eight races on most weekdays.

The cancellation of Wednesday racing will help the purse account in two ways. It will subtract seven days in which purses, which averaged a state record $94,180 per day last season, must be paid. And it adds seven days in which purse monies can be accumulated through simulcast wagering on two full cards. Washington allows simulcasting on only one full card on live race days.

Track vice-president Jack Hodge said Emerald Downs hopes to make up some of the races scheduled for the deleted Wednesdays by carding nine or 10 races per day on weekdays whenever possible. The track already offers 10 races per day on most weekend days and holidays.

News of the purse and racing day cuts are of course worrisome to horsemen, but not nearly so distressing as the seemingly intractable factors depressing the handle, which began to decline last year after two years of increases fed by expanded simulcasting. Further expansion of simulcasting, which would likely be detrimental to the live handle, is currently stymied by an attorney general's ruling that any changes to the state's gambling laws will open all Indian compacts for renegotiation.

The track already gets high marks for its efforts to lure patrons through promotions, fan education, and customer service.

"I'm not sure what more we can do," said Susie Sourwine, who is in her second year as the track's director of marketing.

Handy N Bold closing in on a record

It is eight stakes wins and counting for Handy N Bold, who trails Emerald Downs leader Ropersandwranglers by just one added-money victory after leading throughout 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15 to prevail by a length over Shake Loose in last Sunday's $35,000 Fox Sports Net Handicap.

Trainer Charlie Essex, who claimed Handy N Bold for owner Doris Orr out of his 2-year-old debut for $25,000 in 1997, boldly predicted that his sprint star would break Ropersandwranglers's record after Handy N Bold won his fifth local stakes race, last year's Independence Day Handicap. Sunday, he put an asterisk on that prediction.

"At the time I thought the record was six," he explained. "I never would have said anything if I had known it was nine."

There seems to be little to prevent Handy N Bold from establishing a new record now, simply because there is no horse in the Northwest capable of pushing the front-runner into fractions faster than he can handle. The last time that happened was when Knave dueled with Handy N Bold through a memorable half-mile in 42.80 seconds in last year's Fox Sports Net. Knave hasn't been heard from since, but Handy N Bold has gone from strength to strength.

Arctic White begins training

Arctic White, who is one of only a dozen Thoroughbreds ever to be registered as white, had his first breeze for trainer Howard Belvoir last Saturday. Under apprentice Jennifer Whitaker, Arctic White went two furlongs in 26 seconds flat.

Arctic White, who is called Casper around Belvoir's barn, is a 2-year-old son of Airdrie Apache and Tropicana Anna who was bred in Oregon by owner Darlene Knight.