02/13/2002 12:00AM

E.P. Taylor leads way in purse hikes

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The E.P. Taylor Stakes, Canada's premier turf race for fillies and mares, will be worth a record $750,000 this year.

The $250,000 increase for the Taylor is the one of the highlights of Woodbine's 2002 stakes schedule, which was released Wednesday. The list includes 100 stakes, worth a record total of $19.5 million with the continuing support of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society's Thoroughbred Improvement Fund.

The 168-day Woodbine meeting, which begins March 23, also will feature a 12 percent purse increase for maiden special weight and allowance categories. Those purses will range from $59,100 for a maiden special weight sprint to $82,800 for a classified allowance route.

The first condition book also introduces a new wrinkle in the form of maiden special weight and first-level allowance races restricted to Ontario-sired horses.

The 1 1/4-mile E.P. Taylor will be run Sept. 29 in its usual position as the companion feature to the $1.5 million Canadian International, and again is favorably positioned as a prep for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.

"I think it's warranted," said Chris Evans, Woodbine's director of racing and racing secretary, of the Taylor's enriched purse.

"We've been looking at doing that for a number of years, because of the competition for mares, long on the turf, at that time of year. We have to stay in the ballpark."

While the Taylor registered the largest increase, 61 stakes of Woodbine's stakes will offer higher purses this season.

Several races, including the Hong Kong Jockey Club Trophy, Nearctic, and Dominion Day, have been upped by $50,000.

Almost all stakes previously worth $100,000 - the exceptions being the six yearling sales stakes held here Sept. 2 - will be worth a minimum of $125,000.

The minimum purse for Woodbine's Grade 2 stakes has been raised to $200,000 and the Grade 3 minimum to $150,000.

The Canadian Graded Stakes Committee has adjusted the status of several of the 32 graded events that will be run at Woodbine. The Niagara has been upgraded to Grade 1 and the Nassau to Grade 2, while the Mazarine and Grey were downgraded to Grade 2 and the Marine and Eclipse to Grade 3.

Several stakes have been resituated on the calendar, most notably the Wonder Where for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies.

The Wonder Where, the 1 1/4-mile turf race that follows the Labatt Woodbine Oaks and Fort Erie's Bison City as the final leg of Canada's triple crown for fillies, has been moved to Aug. 5 from its erstwhile spot in late September or early October.

The Canadian-bred 3-year-old filly division still will have a fall turf target in the Oct. 14 Carotene, a $150,000, 1 1/8-mile race that is the only new stakes on the schedule.

One stakes has been renamed, with the Autumn Handicap now known as the Woodbine Slots Cup Handicap. The Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds and upward will be run Nov. 9.

Four sales stakes formerly run at Woodbine - the Harry Addison, Harry Hindmarsh, and the divisions of the Juvenile Stakes for colts and geldings and fillies - will be relocated to Fort Erie through an agreement with the CTHS.

Evans said he also hopes to offer 10 new overnight stakes for Canadian-breds, worth $100,000 apiece, with half the purse money provided by the CTHS, and 10 open overnight events. The runnings of the overnight events, unlike the stakes on the schedule, are not guaranteed.