12/08/2006 1:00AM

Everyone wants to run their horse one last time

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - A marathon meeting which began on April 1 comes to a close with a marathon card, including a couple of marathon races, here at Woodbine on Sunday.

The program will get under way at 12:40 p.m., a half-hour earlier than usual, in order to accommodate a 13orace card that is scheduled to wind up at 6:15 p.m.

The 1 3/4-mile Valedictory Handicap, the longest stakes race of the year, will go as the ninth race while a 1 7/8-mile starter allowance, the longest race of the Woodbine meeting, goes as the sixth.

But, it is the number of entrants which is really the story of the day.

Sunday's 13 races drew a season-high 173 horses, including 11 also-eligibles and 11 that did not even make it as far as the also-eligible list. Total purses of $620,200 are up for grabs.

Saturday's 10-race card attracted 145 entrants, including 10 also-eligibles and eight horses that were excluded. The total purse money offered Saturday was $318,700.

"It's the biggest closing weekend we've had in years," said Steve Lym, Woodbine's racing secretary. "We had a lot of races that I thought would fill big."

Lym said he believes that the Polytrack surface was a major factor in the field sizes late in the season.

"A lot of the bigger outfits have stayed around longer," said Lym. "A lot more horses generally leave in mid-November."

According to Lym, roughly 1,500 horses were still on the grounds last weekend. The stall capacity here is 2,050.

Polytrack had already proven a benefit to field size prior to the late-season rush. Lym said the average field size since Polytrack was installed Aug. 30 is close to 9.2.

The average field size for the year to date is 8.6, up .1 from last year.

"I think the Polytrack has made an immediate impact," said Lym. "We were thinking we wouldn't see that until next year."

Lym noted that field size also held up well when racing was conducted over the inner track while Polytrack was installed this past summer. Woodbine's seven-furlong Standardbred oval was converted for Thoroughbred dirt racing here from July 8 through Aug. 27.

"What hurt us was the virus this spring," said Lym. "The vets were saying it was the worst they've ever seen. If it hadn't been for that, we would have been looking at a really big year."

Big season for British Columbia

British Columbians will have an inordinate amount of rooting interest for this year's Sovereign Awards with representatives in the owner, trainer, jockey, and equine ranks.

Arravale, the probable winner as female turf champion and the favorite to be named Canada's Horse of the Year, is owned by Bob Costigan, a Vancouver resident.

True Metropolitan, whose Hastings-based owner Bob Cheema and trainer Terry Jordan are Sovereign Award finalists, is the likely recipient of the Sovereign Award as older male.

K.K. Sangara, a longtime Vancouverite, owns Financingavailable, who should be named Canada's champion older female. Financingavailable is trained by Lorne Richards, a Hastings transplant who now is a mainstay here at Woodbine.

Monashee, owned by Ole Nielsen and trained by Tracy McCarthy, was the top older female in Vancouver and also made Canada's short list for the category.

Apprentice Mario Gutierrez, who won 25 races as an apprentice and 66 more as a journeyman at Hastings this year, is among the finalists in the apprentice jockey category.

The inclusion of Gutierrez is something of a surprise considering that Ontario-based apprentices Dean Deverell, Michelle Rainford, and Tyler Pizarro all had strong campaigns.

Horses will return in February

The backstretch will be devoid of horses by Wednesday evening but it won't be long before activity resumes here with the reopening scheduled for Feb. 1.

The sand ring is scheduled to open for training on Feb. 4, with the training track to follow suit one week later.

Starting gate training is scheduled to begin on Feb. 18 and the tentative start date for the clocking staff is Feb. 25.

The main track should open in mid-March.

Next year's 167-day meeting will begin March 31 and is scheduled to run through Sunday, Dec. 9.

* The Ontario division of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society elected 11 members to its board of directors for 2007-2008, general manager Julie Coulter announced Thursday. Elected, in alphabetical order, were Jeff Begg, Peter Berringer, Dr. John Brown, John Burness, Mark Casse, Frank DiGiulio Jr., Richard Lister, Tim Orlando, Yvonne Schwabe, Glenn Sikura, and Gail Wood.